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Aeronautics | 26. March 2015 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

The tragedy of flight 4U9525

The crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525 has affected all of us over the last few days, leaving everyone shocked and saddened. The fact that, after a normal initial phase of its flight, the aircraft transitioned into a long descent before impacting on the French Alps initially led to wild speculation. The press repeatedly sought DLR's opinion, looking for statements. We declined any comments for reasons that are hopefully understandable, because we did not want to (and will not) contribute to the speculation.

The current assessment of what happened on board the Airbus A320 now points to deliberate action by the copilot. In this context, during a press conference, Lufthansa noted that DLR plays a role in pilot selection: "We have a lot of scope for examining the psychological suitability of pilots; the DLR tests are perhaps the leading process worldwide for this purpose." Media enquiries have turned from the technology to the people, and at the same time have multiplied.

It is true that the Department of Aviation and Space Psychology at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine carries out suitability selection of operational personnel such as pilots, air traffic controllers and astronauts for various clients.

This means that every applicant for the Lufthansa Flight Training School, for example, must undergo psychological testing prior to being hired. During this procedure, knowledge characteristics (for example, English and engineering), cognitive performance (for example, spatial awareness), psychomotor skills, multitasking and general personality traits (for example, leadership skills, cooperation with colleagues and the ability to work under pressure) are examined. These tests are compliant with both scientific standards and legal requirements.

To prepare pilots and controllers to face the situations they will encounter in their everyday working lives requires special efforts to be made in psychometric testing and training. In addition to processing information at a high level of abstraction, personality factors are becoming increasingly important during the probationary period of operational staff, as well as what are referred to as 'Non-Technical Skills'. These include decision-making and problem solving under high pressure, clear communication, and cooperative team management. In the design of new psychological procedures for aviation, there is an increasing use of computer-based technologies, with which the suitability assessment and training can be made even more precise and cost-effective.

In the target field 'Selection and Training', research findings are directly translated into practical applications. Continuous scientific research and development ensures the high quality of the work conducted at DLR and also ensures the adaptation to technological trends in aviation and the changing requirements for operational staff.

Certainly, such a procedure does not exclude all risks pertaining to an individual's negative development, especially as the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions is not a part of the psychological examinations conducted here at DLR.

Our and my personal concern over what has happened has surely increased due to recent public questions. Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of all passengers and crew members.

Space | 25. February 2015 | posted by Elke Heinemann

Could water molecules from Mars come to Earth?

Marsatmosphäre
Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
The HRSC camera on board the Mars Express acquired this image of the Martian horizon primarily because it provides a clear view of the atmospheric structure enveloping the planet. A clear separation between the lower, denser atmosphere and the stratosphere is visible.

The High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express orbiter has been delivering high-resolution images from the surface of Mars since January 2004 – in colour and 3-D. A monthly selection of these images is published on the dedicated page that covers the Mars Express mission. Quite often, we receive questions about these images and the geological peculiarities they reveal. Other questions are simply about Mars in general. In this blog post, Ulrich Köhler from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research provides an answer to a particularly interesting question. read more

Space | 06. February 2015 | posted by Dietmar Lilienthal

New challenges for a refurbished observatory

Maintenance is connected with waiting. No wonder then that, near the end of SOFIA's five-month heavy maintenance visit at Lufthansa Technik AG in Hamburg, the researchers could hardly wait for the whole procedure to be completed. I was curious to find out exactly how scientific investigations would improve in the entirely refurbished airborne observatory. SOFIA has been back in service since 13 January, and it is already clear that the conditions for observation on board the recently maintained aircraft have been significantly enhanced.

NASA/CXC/PSU/K.Getman, E.Feigelson, M.Kuhn & the MYStIX team; Infrared:NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Flame Nebula (NGC 2024), in the constellation of Orion. High-resolution spectra of neutral oxygen and singly ionised carbon, among others, have been measured for the first time in the dark, central regions of the cloud. They permit precise information on the composition and depth structure of the cloud, and how it is moving.

read more

Space | 18. December 2014 | posted by Elke Heinemann

Simpler usage rights: as of today, Mars Express HRSC images licensed under Creative Commons licence

Eis in der Region Promethei Planum auf dem Mars

Since its arrival at the red planet in December 2003, imagery of ESA's Mars Express mission enjoys great popularity, with the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) onboard the spacecraft, which is operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), playing a major role. Since January 2004, ESA, DLR and Freie Universität Berlin continuously and jointly publish still and moving high-resolution images of Mars' surface. read more

Space | 17. November 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

Not just any week – THE WEEK!

Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).
With Alexander Gerst, just a few minutes after landing at Cologne-Bonn airport.

This past week has been simply amazing. In my position as chairman, there are often intense experiences, and time and again I am especially impressed with the performance of our colleagues, who apply themselves to their job and hence to DLR with full commitment. I am quite used to having to take into account multiple dates, but this week was very special. Alexander Gerst return from the ISS, Rosetta and Philae, and discussions in preparation for the ESA Ministerial Council. Each subject alone offers enough material for a blog post. read more

Space | 05. November 2014 | posted by Christian Grimm | 1 Comment

One last look - farewell, MASCOT

Credit: DLR
Applying the final layers of protection prior to the launch

The last adjustments have been made and the final functionality tests have been completed. Following the successful installation of MASCOT into the Hayabusa-2 spacecraft in Sagamihara, the final preparations have taken place at the Tanegashima launch complex in Japan. The attachment of the solar sails – carefully folded up above MASCOT for the launch – offers the last opportunity to see MASCOT.

Now, the development team must take a step back – it is a strange feeling. For two and a half years, we have been nurturing MASCOT, seeing it grow, teaching it plenty. But now it is time to let go, in the truest sense of the word, and send it on its difficult mission. Unfortunately, we cannot accompany it.

So how do you deal with the departure of an object that is not alive in a biological sense, yet contains the personalities of so many people who have guided it so dearly throughout its development? read more

Space | 03. November 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner | 3 Comments

A very eventful time…

Philae landet auf dem Kometen
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
The Rosetta mission's Philae lander touches down on the comet (video still from 'Mission into the Unknown II - the Philae Comet Lander').

"If everything is under control, you are just not (driving) fast enough." This quote is attributed to several people, including, for example, racing driver Stirling Moss. This is scant reassurance these days, at a personally challenging time marked by so much activity. For one thing, it is time to continue working on the strategic orientation of DLR that was published in summer and, above all, to discuss and draft the parts that are still missing, specifically the alignment of the various technical and structural areas. Furthermore, the consequences at the organisational level – the governance – need consideration. In parallel with this important internal work, external activities are requiring our full attention and the associated commitment. read more

Space | 26. August 2014 | posted by Reinhold Ewald

German astronauts lose a friend and colleague

Die Crew der D1-Mission
Credit: NASA
The crew of the D1 Mission (back row, from left to right): Pilot Steven R. Nagel, Mission Specialist Guion S. Bluford, Jr., Payload Specialists Ernst Messerschmid and Wubbo J. Ockels; (front row, from left to right): Payload Specialist Reinhard Furrer, Mission Specialists Bonnie J. Dunbar and James F. Buchli and Commander Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr.

"Steve Nagel was also of particular importance for Germany, since he held a leadership position on both the D1 Mission and the D2 Mission (D1: Pilot, D2: Commander) and made a major contribution to the success of the two Spacelab missions. We are indebted to him and will honour his memory," explains Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Chairman of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Executive Board. read more

Space | 25. August 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

'Rockets are tricky'

Die 30 Galileo-Satelliten
Credit: ESA-P. Carril
Artist's impression of the 30 Galileo satellites.

This is a quote from Elon Musk, a pioneer in the field of commercial space travel and founder of SpaceX. It expresses his feelings when, on 23 August 2014, SpaceX experienced an unsuccessful test launch. Equipment used for spaceflight is always very sophisticated technically, due to the complexity of the systems involved, the fact that they have to be deployed without much of a safety margin and the relative scarcity of options for real-time adjustments. Although rocket technology has been continuously and very successfully developed over the years, the aforementioned aspects imply that 'absolute certainty' is a pipe dream. This fact reared its head once again during the launch of two Galileo satellites on 22 August 2014. read more

Space | 24. July 2014 | posted by Elke Heinemann | 4 Comments

Closing in on Rosetta's target comet

Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

 

A model of the comet's shape, based on the images acquired on 14 July 2014.

Surface structures are becoming visible in new images of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. These images, with a resolution of 100 metres per pixel, were acquired with the OSIRIS scientific imaging system on board Rosetta. The comet's neck region – the section connecting the two heads – seems to be much brighter than the head and body of the nucleus. read more