“Human beings have it in their genes to be curious,” says Johann-Dietrich Wörner. Space travel is the ultimate expression of this human characteristic. We do not only wish to explore every last corner on Earth, but also to travel to the stars. That is what drives international astronauts – and is the dream of many young people all over the world. Wörner can also remember looking up into the heavens with his father as a young child. Although the 60-year-old did not become an astronaut, he has made a major contribution to their work. In the next few days Wörner could also be said to be entering a new sphere: the former Chairman of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) has become Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA).
22 member countries – and Canada
The DLR has frequently attracted attention recently – above all, with Alexander Gerst’s successful mission on the International Space Station (ISS). Today international cooperation is nowhere more important than in the field of space travel. Individual states and their organisations cannot support these expensive projects, which is why great importance is attached to European cooperation. ESA has 22 member countries and Canada is an associate member. “It will be my job to make sure everyone is involved,” said Wörner in an interview with the Association of German Engineers (VDI). Physicist Reimar Lüst was the last German to head ESA from 1984 to 1990.
Wörner, who was born in Kassel, is an experienced scientist and research manager. He studied civil engineering and lived in Japan for two years while working on his doctorate. He taught at the Technische Universität Darmstadt, before becoming President of the university in 1995. In 2007 he became Chairman of the DLR, which has grown enormously since that time: from 5,000 to over 8,000 employees.
One of the subjects that will occupy Wörner in his new job at ESA is the future of the ISS. Previously a collaborative venture involving Europe, Canada, Russia, Japan and the USA, Wörner can also imagine new partnerships for the station – for example, with China and India. He attracted a lot of attention shortly before taking up his new job when he suggested setting up a research station on the moon to replace the ISS. Curiosity is infinite.