'Be proud!' says ESA's top scientist, welcoming the 21st Century
21 December 1999The Director of Science, Roger Bonnet, sends a New Year greeting to thetaxpayers in the 14 Member States of the European Space Agency who makepossible the challenging projects of the space science programme.The latest Science Newsletter (n0 38) is now available
Thanks to you the world's most powerful X-ray telescope, XMM, went into space before Christmas and we look forward to seeing amazing pictures in the Spring. In June and July 2000 the four identical satellites of the Cluster II mission will set off to orbit in company and give the world its very first 3-D view of the violent space weather that rages over our heads.
These are just the nearest milestones in a programme of more than 20 projects spanning the past quarter of a century and the coming decade. Space scientists of ESA's Member States who advise us make sure that our plans are well thought out and updated. Europe's aerospace industries accept every challenge we put to them, welcoming the chance to push forward the frontiers of technology. As a result, each project is the best of its kind and very purposeful, within a coherent programme for discovery.
Thus in space astronomy our new XMM is a successor to ESA's hugely successful Hipparcos and ISO missions. It will be followed by Integral, FIRST and Planck, each giving an extraordinary new view of the Universe from beyond the Earth's atmosphere. As for Cluster II, it will join Ulysses and SOHO, already performing wonders in space, for the biggest and most coherent effort ever made, to make sense of the stormy Sun and its non-stop effects on the Earth.
Nothing in space science is more important than understanding our planet and its unique qualities as a home for life. That means learning about the Earth's origins by studying comets, asteroids and the origin of the Moon. Our neighbour Mars is a planet where something has gone badly wrong, making it at best a very harsh place for life. And new clues to the origin of life itself are waiting to be revealed on Saturn's peculiar moon Titan.
That's why the flags of Europe are on their way to other worlds! Our probe Huygens, already en route for Titan, will there make the most distant landing ever attempted. Mars Express is being prepared for the most thorough examination ever made of the Red Planet, together with a lander to look for evidence of life. And the pioneering encounters with Halley's Comet and Comet Grigg-Skjellerup by ESA's Giotto will be followed by the much more searching examination of Comet Wirtanen by our Rosetta spacecraft and yet another lander.
Europe spends much less on space science than NASA does, but we believe that our results are proportionately greater. We sharpen our wits and tighten our budgets to give you good value for your money. For example, even SMART-1, a modest trial of a new solar-electric propulsion system, will help Europe's scientists to find out how the Moon was born. Apart from the discoveries and the technological spin-off, interest in science and engineering will grow among our children and students as news of our projects stirs their young imaginations.
When ESA came into existence a quarter of a century ago, Europe was a poor relation in space research, compared with the USA and Soviet Union. Now we are at the forefront in some of the most important areas. The great new European launcher, Ariane 5, and our solar-electric propulsion system will both help us to be ready for fresh challenges. So you can be proud of Europe's bold and innovative role in space science at the start of the new millennium.
The Christmas 1999 interview with Prof. Bonnet can be read and viewed here.