Jürgen Brandner used to dream of Formula 1. Now he’s building a vehicle for the Moon.
When you have a job and four children, and you come home after a long day at the office only to disappear into the basement to tinker around with a vehicle designed to drive on the Moon someday—you need a very understanding partner.
“After the fourth meeting of the week or yet another important design, that does sometimes cause fights,” Jürgen Brandner grins. “On the other hand, there are the moments when the shared pride wins out.”
Jürgen Brandner is one of the team’s Austrian members. Once a month he flies from Salzburg to Berlin to meet with his colleagues face to face. However, the vibrant metropolis upon which party people descend like meteor showers doesn’t really affect the father of four very much. The route from Friedrichshain, where he lives while here, along Frankfurter Allee to Marzahn is all he sees of Germany’s capital. Black trousers, a white shirt, a wedding band—one glance makes it obvious how little he has in common with the tattooed tourists heading for hot spots like Berghain or Kater Blau to soak up that Berlin feeling.
If Brandner stays up late in Berlin, it’s to work, not party.
“We usually sit here until midnight. We don’t have rigid workflows like with a regular job. Those constraints don’t exist. Our enthusiasm for the project is what makes us put in 16-hour days at the office voluntarily without even noticing the time.”
This devotion to the project is easy to explain. It comes from having found an objective they can pour all their passion into. The catalyst for PTScientists was not the idea of flying to the Moon as such. It was the fact that the project brought like-minded people together who would otherwise have continued tinkering alone in their basements. Many in the group are united by the experience of having gone down the wrong path first.
Jürgen Brandner belongs to this group.
“I come from a traditional working-class family. The mentality is that you work diligently and don’t do anything that’s not sensible. Science sounds too visionary. I broke out of those small-minded structures, but when you do that you can’t always foresee the consequences. Dentistry was an interim solution. There aren’t too many options in Salzburg.”
Even so, this college dropout was always on the lookout for higher tasks. Once he was on the brink of applying to join a Formula 1 team. He heard about the PTScientists and he reasoned, the language barrier would be particularly easy to overcome. In the Prussian North, they soon realized that the ideas springing up from the Salzburg basement workshop were top notch. Ever since, Jürgen Brandner has been responsible for making sure the rovers circuits work. He is the precision engineering pro. To put it simply, Jürgen Brandner and his team develop all the mechanical components that are visible on the rover. Each one of its wheels can be individually controlled and turned in all directions.
Whatever the rovers cameras capture of the moon, this science fiction fan ensures that no jammed wheel will bring the project to a halt.
“We need the Moon as a springboard for a trip to Mars. That’s why one of the things we’re sending up is a 3D printer. Even if all it prints is a little cube, we want to demonstrate that it can work,” he explains. “In the future, components will have to be built in the Moon’s orbit. Sending up material from Earth on a rocket won’t work. Overcoming gravity takes too much energy.”
Listening to Jürgen talk this way, it’s a little surprising to learn that he writes fantasy novels, not science fiction. Yes, that’s right. He has published two vampire volumes under a pseudonym. Writing every day is still a fixture in his life. It helps offset the world of wires, monitors, cables and solar cells.
Four kids. Books. And a trip to the Moon. If you’ve ever complained that you don’t have the time to put your plans into action, you should sit down for a beer with Jürgen Brandner. As a matter of fact, the Austrian is the only member of the team you could do that with. None of the other PTScientists drink alcohol. That may also be one reason the 37-year-old won’t become an ex-pat anytime soon. On the contrary—he has a surprise in store for his German colleagues, when the rovers land on the Moon’s surface.
“Then the drop containers will open and an Austrian flag will come out,” he says mischievously. “They won’t believe their eyes.”