BERLIN, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Germany is debating whether to launch an unmanned mission to the moon to help German companies secure expertise in the aerospace sector.
"A German moon landing is possible during the course of the next decade, around 2015," Peter Hintze, state secretary for economy and technology, on Wednesday told public broadcaster ZDF.
Such a mission would cost at least $2.2 billion, but Hintze said the money would be well-invested even as Germany is hit by the worst recession in decades. A mission to the moon would secure German aerospace and robotics expertise, create high-technology jobs and improve the country's scientific expertise, Hintze said.
"The moon is of the highest importance when answering the question of how we guarantee the future of our own blue planet," he said, adding that a joint mission with other European nations or the United States would also be an option.
In what seems to be a more visionary idea, the state secretary said the mission could help set up a base on the moon to thwart threats from space, for example an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
Hintze, who is also the government's aerospace coordinator, is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union.
The CDU has said it might revive German plans for a trip to the moon if it is re-elected in the country's general elections next month.
Hintze's plan includes three steps: sending into space a German-made satellite, developing an automated landing system for the spacecraft and a robotic vehicle to research the moon's surface.
Several politicians, however, have said the plans are unrealistic in times of an economic crisis and tight budgets.
A similar German mission failed last year because the Cabinet refused to allocate the estimated costs, some $500 million. Called Lunar Exploration Orbiter, it involved European Aeronautics and Space daughter EADS Astrium and German aerospace company OHB Technology. It was aimed at sending a lunar orbiter to the moon to map its surface.
The cancellation of the mission came as a shock to the German Aerospace Center, which had already started preparing the mission.
Most major world powers are currently planning new aerospace missions, including the United States, Russia, China and India. The Germans have never put together a national moon mission but have been involved in several European space programs.