ESA’s Woerner To Depart Early

ESA’s Woerner To Depart Early

ESA Director General Jan Woerner announced today that he will step aside at the end of February instead of June as earlier planned. His successor, Josef Aschbacher, heads ESA’s earth observation programs, one of the reasons Woerner cited as enabling a shorter transition period.

European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Johann-Dietrich (Jan) Woerner.

Woerner took the helm at ESA in 2015 after nine years serving as the head of Germany’s space agency, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and Germany’s delegation to ESA. He chaired the ESA Council from 2012-2014.

Known for his charmingly droll sense of humor, in announcing his earlier-than-expected departure he said he would sum up his years leading public organizations by quoting Frank Sinatra: “I did it my way.”

How best to summarize my work these last 25 years at the helm of public organisations. Of course, I could pore over the record: a success here, a failure there.  But, I prefer to quote the great Frank Sinatra and just leave it at this: “I did it my way.”  — Jan Woerner

ESA has 22 member countries. France, Germany and Italy are its largest financial contributors. Since 1984, the ESA DG position has been held by an individual from one of those countries.

Woerner took over from France’s Jean-Jacques Dordain who held the post for 12 years.

Aschbacher, by contrast, is from Austria, one of the smaller financial contributors. The only other smaller contributor to hold the DG position was Erik Quistgaard from Denmark (1980-1984). Roy Gibson of the United Kingdom was ESA’s first DG (1975-1980) at a time when the UK was one of the major contributors. (The UK is still a member of ESA. Its departure from the European Union has no effect on that.)

European Space Agency (ESA) budget by member country. Source: ESA website. ESA’s members are: Austria (AT), Belgium (BE), Czech Republic (CZ), Denmark (DK), Estonia (EE), Finland (FI), France (FR), Germany (DE), Greece (GR), Hungary (HU), Ireland (IE), Italy (IT), Luxembourg (LU), The Netherlands (NL), Norway (NO), Poland (PL), Portugal (PT), Romania (RO), Spain (ES), Sweden (SE), Switzerland (CH) and the United Kingdom (UK). ESA also has a technical agreement for cooperation with Canada (CA) and two Associate Members: Slovenia (SI) and Latvia (not listed separately in the graphic).

When Aschbacher’s nomination was accepted by ESA’s governing council in December, Woerner said that despite cries of “The King is Dead, Long Live the King” he intended to remain as ESA DG until the end of his contract on June 30, 2021.

However, in his blog post today, “And Now, the Time Has Come,” he had a different message.  Because his successor is already at ESA and the “consequences internally and externally” of a prolonged transition among other factors, the decision is for him to leave at the end of next month.

Before heading DLR, Woerner was President of the Technische Universität Darmstadt and before that a professor of civil engineering. He added today he probably will return to those civil engineering roots.

The ESA DG and his key division directors, including Aschbacher, hold an annual press conference each January to take a look at the year ahead.  That is scheduled for this upcoming Thursday.

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