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To the Scientific Community - a fond farewell from Prof. R. M. Bonnet

To the Scientific Community - a fond farewell from Prof. R. M. Bonnet

30 April 2001

Dear Colleagues,On my last day at ESA, I want to address you this farewell message after 18 years spent here as Director of the Science Programme.

During these 18 years, a lot has indeed been accomplished: eleven missions have been launched, totalising 17 satellites, including the eight Cluster satellites and the four which never reached orbit, equivalent to 30 tons of hardware!

Six missions are still in development for launch between 2002 and 2007, and a new package was selected last year which includes the NGST, BepiColombo, LISA, Gaia, the Solar Orbiter, and possibly Eddington.

The frame of these missions has been the Horizons 2000 programme composed of Horizon 2000 and Horizon 2000 Plus, formulated in 1984 and 1994 and favourably endorsed by Ministers in Rome and Toulouse in 1985 and 1995 respectively.

The balanced structure of this programme, based on a set of cornerstones, medium size missions and smaller missions has offered the scientific community and industry the minimum set to fulfil their ambitions and goals. At the same time, it has been a reference in Europe and abroad. We certainly could do more in Europe but experience has shown that we could not unless more money were to be assigned to space science or if we could drastically reduce costs.

After the Ministerial Council in Rome, indeed, more money came into the science budget with a regular yearly increase of 5% from 1985 to 1995, never seen before. The decisions taken at Toulouse in 1995 unfortunately led to a real decrease of 3% over 5 years. Certainly that provided the incentive for us to increase efficiency through the introduction of new working procedures, thanks to industry and to the ESA Science Projects Department at ESTEC. This was done very successfully. In this way, we have been able to relaunch Cluster after the failure of the first flight of Ariane 5, to initiate Mars Express, to start small missions for advanced research in technology with Smart-1 ongoing and Smart-2 just decided, to maintain STEP in the programme and probably to introduce a new mission in 2005 using a second Mars Express bus. This is probably not the end of the story, especially if we can continue to count on the support of our Member States to maintain the level of European Space Science or even increase it. A meeting point is already set up with a Council Meeting at ministerial level next November in Edinburgh.

The result of all this is a European space science programme which occupies a solid n02 position just after its American equivalent. Certainly the Europeans should continuously fight to make the gap between the Leader and us as small as possible. This is very difficult if the level of funding that is given to space science in Europe stays at a factor of 3 to 4 smaller than that benefiting the US scientists. Having witnessed how active you are in providing new ideas and having seen your achievements you certainly deserve an equal treatment to that of your US colleagues. In fact, why should we, Europeans, abandon substantial portions of space science when the European people are as rich both intellectually and financially as the US? Indeed, in the past 18 years we have also increased our cooperation with NASA (very few if any of our missions do not have a component of US participation) and enlarged it to Russia, Japan and now China. A reciprocity agreement has been endorsed and faithfully implemented between ESA's science programme and NASA whereby we open our AO's systematically to US scientists.

The Interagency Consultative Group (IACG) created in 1981 to coordinate the mission to Halley now regrouping ESA, NASA, the Russian Space Agency and ISAS, has actively and successfully continued until now, and has provided a unique forum where to coordinate, and now plan future cooperative programmes and missions.

New disciplines have also been introduced into the programme. Twenty years ago, planetary exploration was nearly non-existent in ESA apart from the single, though fantastic, Giotto mission. But then Huygens/Cassini, Rosetta, Mars Express and BepiColombo came in. Solar Physics, even through it represented one of the most active elements of science in Europe, had no mission of its own. Then SOHO was introduced in Horizon 2000, and, in conjunction with Ulysses and Cluster, together with a large number of ground based observatories and other space missions such as Yohkoh and Trace, it allowed Europe to be one of the most active partners on the international scene in this field. The Solar Orbiter may soon be one element of an "International Living with a Star" programme.

With missions like XMM-Newton, and in the future XEUS, Europe is a major player in X-ray astronomy and the same can be said for the infrared with ISO, Planck and Herschel-First, and later IRSI-Darwin. Hipparcos (a pre-Horizon 2000 mission) has put Europe in the front seat of a new discipline called "Space Astrometry" and has created a genuine revolution with several new missions now blossoming in different parts of the world including ESA itself with Gaia.

Although Earth Science is not part of the mandatory science programme per se, the fact that the Science Directorate was entrusted the task of defining ESA's strategy for Earth Observation has placed this important element of science in the frame of an Envelope Programme whose structure and working procedures are very similar to those applied in the Science Programme and has given it the status of a science driven programme.

Not necessarily last, because I may have forgotten something, for which I apologise, but certainly not least, after having decided that communication and the relations with the public were essential elements of the space science strategy, we now enjoy another success with the ESA web page being one of the most active and well-known in the world.

I certainly would not like to leave you with the impression that all this is the achievement of one man alone. It is a collective success: first of all your success. It is also the success of industry and of all the ESA staff whose competence and professionalism I enjoyed during 18 years.

It is also D. Southwood's success because as you probably know he has been a very active scientist and a partner of ESA as PI on several missions, but also as chairman of the SSAC and of the SPC, and as such deeply involved in the formulation of Horizons 2000 and in its implementation. Both of us also worked together in the Science Directorate to formulate the Earth Envelope Programme called "Living Planet". He is clearly very well qualified to lead the ESA Science Programme from now on and I would like to wish him all the best for the future and a very successful ministerial meeting in Edinburgh next November. He faces many challenges, such as how to deal with the issue of payloads on Science missions that become more and more complex and often above the financial and managerial capabilities of their PI's or of their national organisations.

Maintaining ESA's n02 position on the world scene is clearly a difficult task! But I am sure he can succeed with your support and your cooperation, you the scientists, you the Member States.

I wish all of you the best for the future and a lot of new success. Thank you again for what you have done for space science at ESA during these 18 years.

Good luck and good bye.

Dr. R.M. Bonnet


Dr. R. M. Bonnet
Directeur de Recherches
CNRS - Universiti de Paris-Sud
Institut d'Astrophysique
Bbtiment 121
F-91406 Orsay Cedex

Last Update: 1 September 2019
29-Nov-2023 16:11 UT

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