Who was Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo?
Giuseppe (Bepi) Colombo (1920-1984) was a mathematician and engineer of astonishing imagination, whose bald head and grey moustache were familiar in the corridors of both ESA and NASA. Apart from his work on Mercury, Colombo invented tethers for linking satellites together. As one of the initiators of ESA's mission to Halley's Comet he suggested its name, Giotto, but he died before that project was accomplished. At the University of Padua his work continues in CISAS, the Centro Interdipartimentale di Studi ed Attività Spaziali "G. Colombo".
At the meeting in Naples (20-23 September 1999), the European Space Agency's Science Programme Committee recognised the achievements of the late Giuseppe Colombo of the University of Padua by adopting his name for the Mercury project which was then under consideration. Almost everything known until now about the planet Mercury comes from three passes by NASA's Mariner 10 in 1974-75, which were inspired by Colombo's calculations. He suggested how to put that spacecraft into an orbit that would bring it back repeatedly to Mercury. The Italian scientist also explained, as an unsuspected resonance, Mercury's peculiar habit of rotating three times in every two revolutions of the Sun.
The mission to Mercury, now named after Professor Colombo, is one of ESA's science programme's 'Cornerstones'. In the course of the comprehensive Horizon 2000 Plus review of the programme in 1994, it was identified by Europe's space scientists as one of the most challenging long-term planetary projects. Mercury is the least known of the inner planets. Its orbit close to the Sun makes it difficult to observe from a distance and hard to reach by space flight. As a result, big questions raised by the Mariner 10 flybys of a quarter of a century ago remain unanswered.
"I am very pleased we have given the name of BepiColombo to our Mercury Cornerstone. Bepi was a great scientist, a great European and a great friend; we could do no better than name one of our most challenging and imaginative missions after him," said Roger Bonnet, Director of ESA Science Programme (1983 - 2001).
In 1985 to commemorate this great scientist, ESA created a 'Colombo fellowship' to be granted to European scientists working in the fields of science explored by G. Colombo.