Space | 31. May 2010 | posted by Jan Wörner

Former University President and DLR Board Chairman to be ESA Director General?

Jan Wörner im Kreis europäischer Astronauten.
Jan Wörner im Kreis europäischer Astronauten.

The period of office for the current ESA Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain, ends in 2011. Because so far only one German, Reimar Lüst, has been director general of the European Space Agency since its inception, it seems fairly obvious for a German candidate to be in the running for the forthcoming election of a successor. Preliminary discussions with all ESA member states confirmed that a German candidate would have very good prospects.

In 1995 I was appointed as President of the Technical University of Darmstadt, and so radically "tore myself away" from my previous work as an engineer and professor of construction engineering. It was not an easy decision for me, and my mentor of many years’ standing, Prof. Gert König, sent me a book by Max Weber entitled 'Science as a Vocation (1917/19) Politics as a Vocation (1919)' dedicated as follows: "Dear Mr Wörner, for the next 10 years I hope you make the right choice, whether you heed page 6 ff. (Science as a Vocation) or page 73 ff. (Politics as a Vocation).“

Max Weber, Gesamtausgabe. Studienausgabe: Wissenschaft als Beruf 1917/1919. Politik als Beruf 1919: Abt. I/17 (Taschenbuch)My decision in favour of university politics was difficult for me, but was eased by the fact that, as an honorary professor, I could continue to work in research and teaching. In 2007, after almost 12 years, I was once again faced with a similar dilemma – about joining DLR. The result of my decision is well known but, once again, as a professor at TU Darmstadt on sabbatical leave, I have the pleasure of delivering lectures and supervising research work, subject to the demands placed on my time by my main job, although only to a very limited extent.

In connection with the impending decision as regards the next ESA Director General, many regarded the Chairman of the DLR Board as the 'natural' candidate. Of course, to be responsible for the fate of European spaceflight has particular appeal for me. At the same time, I consider it wrong – and (unfortunately) there are many examples of the correctness of this statement – that it is always desirable to aim higher and higher (as regards position or income) in one's career. After careful consideration and with due regard for numerous aspects, I have informed the Federal Minister of Economics that I do not wish to be a candidate. This decision is closely bound up with my feelings, because I have grown very fond of DLR, its staff and its areas of operation (aeronautics, spaceflight, energy, traffic and security). In addition, there is a whole raft of important questions to be tackled as regards the structure, development and governance of DLR and their interplay with individual, institutional and political interests, which represent a very attractive challenge for me. My position on developing more personal responsibility with clearly defined targets has been well known for some time, and is equally applicable both internally and externally. I remain enthusiastic as long as I feel that DLR is broadly behind me, and I am totally convinced that I have one of the best jobs in the world.

Following my personal decision, the German Federal Government and our neighbour, France, have jointly proposed that Jean-Jacques Dordain should remain as Director General for a further period of office. Other member states are supporting an additional term of Jean-Jacques Dordain as well. In any case it is the ESA council that has the right to decide about the future Director General. The consequence for Germany is that they will propose excellent German candidates for the forthcoming posts for ESA directors in core positions. Furthermore, the European situation as regards spaceflight, as changed by the Lisbon treaty, must also be taken into consideration now with the relevant institutional structures. From a German perspective, it is important to ensure the continuity of ESA's successful positioning.

Translated from the German original.

Top image: DLR Board Chairman Jan Wörner with the European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts. Credit: DLR.

Centre image: Cover of the book ‘Max Weber, complete student edition: Science as a Vocation 1917/1919 Politics as a Vocation 1919 (Paperback)’. Reproduced with the permission of Mohr Siebeck publishers.


About the author

The ‘Jan Wörner’ blog was written by Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ Wörner during his time as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). Jan Wörner wrote all the posts himself and then sent them to DLR Corporate Communications for editing, picture research and online publication. to authorpage