Dinner-Debate on Europe’s future role in Solar System exploration held in European Parliament
February 3, 2011

Europe’s planetary exploration programme adds value to member states and efforts should be made to maintain Europe’s position as a leader in the field of planetary science in the decades to come, according to Britta Thomsen MEP. Ms Thomsen was speaking at a Dinner-Debate on “Europe’s challenge: to lead the New Age of Space Exploration”, held last night in the European Parliament. The event was organised by the Europlanet Research Infrastructure (RI) and co-hosted by the Ms Thomsen and Teresa Riera Madurell MEP.

Europe has great breadth in its planetary science research expertise, as well as in the industrial capabilities needed to support endeavours. Europe contains probably the largest international community of planetary scientists and engineers, comprising over 800 academics and several thousand employees in the industrial sector. The Europlanet RI brings together scientists from more than 100 laboratories in Europe and around the World.

The Dinner-Debate brought together 40 participants that included members of the European Parliament, the European Commission, members of the Planetary research community, the space industry and other key stake holders to discuss opportunities for Europe to play a leading role in planetary exploration in decades to come.

Britta Thomsen of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy said, “Europe’s space programme is a standard-bearer for European research in all fields. European planetary science is in front when considering innovation and development of technology. I find it to be of great importance that the European planetary science continues to maintain its leading position and therefore also receives the necessary funding through EU.”

Michel Blanc, Coordinator of the Europlanet Research Infrastructure, said, “Europe has the capacity of a world-wide influence on the future of exploration in the Solar System. We need a strong network of space agencies, under the leadership of ESA, but also a strong and integrated scientific community. We want to share this adventure with European citizens and provide them with pride and awareness of their space programme.”

David Southwood, the European Space Agency’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, said, “No individual European country alone could have achieved a mission like the Huygens probe, which landed on Titan in 2005. If the European Parliament needs evidence that Europe adds value to member states, what we are achieving in space exploration is proof of Europeans working together and providing a vision for the future.”

Anja C Andersen, astrophysicist at the University of Copenhagen and winner of the Descartes Prize for Science Communication, said, “Where did we come from and the meaning of life are fundamental questions that touch not just scientists but all human beings. Planetary exploration is exciting. We want to reach for the stars. On the European flag there are twelve stars on a blue sky and we want to reach for them.”

Joël Poncy of Interplanetary and Science Advanced Projects at Thales Alenia Space said, “By their challenging nature planetary science and exploration missions are powerful enhancers of technologies and of the development of a highly skilled work force. Importantly for the rest of the society, the technologies they require are now more and more related to the challenges of this 21st century, which include the quest for efficient use of limited resources.”


Europlanet Research RI is a major (€6 million) programme co-funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.

Europlanet RI brings together the European planetary science community through a range of Networking Activities, aimed at fostering a culture of cooperation in the field of planetary sciences, Transnational Access Activities, providing European researchers with access to a range of laboratory and field site facilities tailored to the needs of planetary research, as well as on-line access to the available planetary science data, information and software tools, through the Integrated and Distributed Information Service. These programmes are underpinned by Joint Research Activities, which are developing and improving the facilities, models, software tools and services offered by Europlanet.