ESA introduces its Director of Science Medal
19 May 1999Extraordinary efforts made by individuals who take part in ESA's scientific missions are now to be recognized by a special ESA award called the Director of Science Medal. At a ceremony in Bern, Switzerland, on 19 May 1999, the first four medals were presented to "stars" of the Hipparcos mission, Catherine Turon and Jean Kovalevsky from France, Lennart Lindegren from Sweden and Erik Høg from Denmark.
The contributions of non-ESA scientists are indispensable if ESA's projects are not only to succeed technically but to be the best in the world, with a large payoff in discoveries.
ESA's space science programme exists to serve the academic space science community throughout its Member States. In a close and continuous relationship, committees of scientists outside of ESA define the broad shape of the programme and recommend the authorization of individual missions. At the same time, any scientist can propose a new project, and multinational groups of academic scientists devote great effort to the detailed studies needed for the selection process.
The effort intensifies when a mission is approved, and scientific groups compete for the right to participate. The burden on individuals becomes greatest if their contributions are accepted, bringing the prospect of many years of work to develop instruments, to participate in the space operations and to analyse the results.
Living with the stern deadlines and technical disciplines of space engineers is very different from the normal course of campus life. To spend decades on such exacting work requires a certain passion, based on a conviction that a space project will enlarge human knowledge more effectively than easier kinds of research.
ESA is fortunate that there is no shortage of men and women willing to work with such devotion, in Europe's universities and institutes. The 1999 winners of the Director of Science Medals personify this spirit.
Roger Bonnet, ESA's Director of Science, comments:
"ESA's very first medals for science are awarded for work with Hipparcos, one of our most distinctive all-European missions. No other agency has attempted anything like it. From the vastly improved positions, distances and motions of stars which Hipparcos provided, scientists all around the world are now making discoveries every day. As team leaders, our medallists were responsible for the largest computing task in the history of astronomy. ESA says thank you to them and to the many other scientists who devoted 20-30 years of their working lives to making Hipparcos a success."
Each medal is made of silver. The front side is decorated with the ESA logo in relief and carries the words:
Director of Science Medal
The reverse side of the medal will vary according to the scientific mission with which the recipient is associated. The four medals awarded in May 1999 have a representation of the Hipparcos satellite in relief and the words:
The Hipparcos Space Astrometry Mission
The name of the recipient and the year of the award (1999) also appear on the reverse side.
Hipparcos: the ESA mission featured in the 1999 medals
Hipparcos has revolutionized astronomy by fixing the positions of the stars far more accurately than ever before. As the world's astronomers begin to quarry its results, early discoveries include a revision of the scale of the Universe and surprises about the motions of stars in the Milky Way.
Conceived and built in Europe, Hipparcos operated in space from 1989 to 1993, repeatedly measuring angles between pairs of stars in widely separated positions in the sky. Before it flew, multinational teams of scientists identified the target stars and prepared the computing techniques that would make sense of a million million bits of data coming from the satellite. Motions of the Earth and of the stars themselves, and even the effect of the Sun's gravity on starlight, had to be reconciled in a consistent and precise map of the entire sky.
The 1999 Director of Science Medal winners played essential roles in the conception and execution of the Hipparcos mission. The target stars, nearly 120 000, were chosen by the Input Catalogue Consortium (INCA) headed by Catherine Turon, of Meudon, France. Two other medal winners, Jean Kovalevsky of Grasse, France, and Lennart Lindegren of Lund, Sweden, led the FAST (Fundamental Astronomy by Space Techniques) and NDAC (Northern Data Analysis) Consortia which independently calculated the positions, distances and motions of these stars, from the space observations with the main instrument in Hipparcos. Using an auxiliary star mapper, the Tycho Data Analysis Consortium produced a further catalogue of a million stars with lesser but still remarkable accuracy, under the leadership of Erik Høg of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Calculations continued for three years after the space operations ended. In 1997, ESA's Hipparcos Catalogue and Tycho Catalogue made the results available to all the world's astronomers, professional or amateur. An American astrophysicist, Philip Morrison, wrote of the outcome: "Our galactic star precinct has just been well mapped for the first time, ready for a century of searching stars for the promise of life."