While we, like so many around the world, continue to be hugely preoccupied with fighting the coronavirus and with its impact on people and the economy, the very sad news has reached us that the former ESA Director General and a towering figure in European space, Professor Reimar Lüst, has passed away, aged 97.
It was in 1961 that the Max-Planck Society decided the time was ripe to move into space activities and to that end Professor Lüst was the one chosen to set up a task force. This eventually led to the founding of the Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. In the following period, Reimar Lüst became a very active figure in the development of European cooperation in the space field, leading to him becoming the first Science Director of ESA predecessor, ESRO.
After serving as president of the Max Planck Society for two terms, he became Director General of ESA for 6 years from 1984 until 1990. Under his leadership a great many important space activities were put in place, Ariane 5, European participation in the ISS1 and Giotto being just a few highlights.
In 1995, when I became President of the Technical University of Darmstadt, I launched a public consultation on the role and organisation of universities. In one of the open discussions that took place in this context, Professor Lüst was a key speaker and he took the opportunity to set out his vision for teaching and research. What he said served as very important input to my work and I was able to use many of those ideas to reshape the institution for which I was responsible, creating in the process the first autonomous university in Germany.
When discussions started about a new Director General of ESA in 2014 and after my election as that new DG, I got in contact with him and then went to meet him in his home in Hamburg. His recommendations were hugely valuable to me as he went through in detail his experience and observations drawing on his own time as Director General. We discussed the best way forward and the obstacles a DG might encounter when trying to take the Agency forward and optimise its potential. He explained all the different facets of the job and gave some practical recommendations on the daily work of a DG. His very concrete explanations gave me a sound basis when I started at ESA, as a still rather naive layman when it came to space and the various interests of Member States.
Reimar Lüst was the founding father of the Max-Planck-Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, where I spent a large portion of my scientific career. When I was a student and post-doc there in the 1980s and early 1990s, he was the President of the Max-Planck Society and later the Director General of ESA. But he still regularly joined use for our yearly sailing excursions on Bavaria’s Chiemsee and we had quite a number of adventures together. Later, when I became a Max-Planck director, he gave us invaluable advice on many matters affecting the institute, but this he also did when it came to my own scientific career. I always admired him enormously as a great visionary and formidable networker.
Günther Hasinger and Jan Wörner:
His open-mindedness, his European spirit and his passion and determination when it came to science and space was always an inspiration and his advice unfailingly concrete, well-judged and helpful.
A great man has left us but we will never forget him.
1ISS: International Space Station