On 19 March the European space organization ESA has appointed Roel Gathier, managing director of SRON, to chair of the Science Programme Committee (SPC). Gathier will hold this influential position for two years, from 1 July 2014 onwards, with the possibility of a third year. The appointment is a recognition of the great merits of Dutch space research for Europe.
The SPC is responsible for running the Science-programme. The committee decides on the scientific missions of the programme and so determines the content of the programme. With this programme the space organization aims at researching the universe, from op ‘close’ (our solar system) to the outer regions of the universe.
The ESA programme has produced many successful space missions, among which the pioneering Herschel mission. The infrared space telescope Herschel – with onboard the ‘ Molecule Hunter’ HIFI developed with SRON in the lead – has come up with a wealth of data on for instance the birth and death of stars. Another example is the Rosetta mission, which is expected to yield spectacular results later this year. Rosetta – to which SRON does not contribute – is on its way to a comet in our solar system and will even land a small probe on the comet.
All member states of ESA contribute to the scientific programme. As such the programme has a budget of about 500 Meuros, with a Dutch contribution of about 5%.
The appointment of Gathier can be seen as recognition of the great merits of Dutch space research within the ESA Science programme. The Netherlands has contributed to pioneering space missions since the beginning of European space research. The Nehterlands hope to contribute substantially to missions that will be launched in the coming years. Among them the Japanese/European mission SPICA and a large X-ray observatory, which will be shortly decided on by the SPC.
Roel Gathier, managing director of SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, has been vice chairman of the SPC since 2011. It will be the third time in history that SRON provides the SPC chairman, after former SRON-directors Kees de Jager and Johan Bleeker.