A-Z of European Space

The first decades: 1959-1994

  • Italian cosmic ray physicist, leader of the postwar Italian nuclear physics community
  • Key figure in the creation of CERN in 1954
  • Co-founder of the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics)
  • Chair of General Physics at the Sapienza University of Rome
  • 1978-1981 - Chairman of ESA’s Science Programme Committee
  • President of the Accademia dei Lincei at the time of his unexpected death in 1989

Amaldi’s open letter to a handful of eminent European scientists in 1959 started the process which led to COPERS and to the foundation of ESRO. Once COPERS was established, Amaldi largely withdrew from involvement in the organisational process; with the exception of the establishment of ESRIN, the ESRO research laboratory based in Frascati. ESA’s third Automated Transfer Vehicle was named after him, in recognition of his role as one of ESA’s founding fathers.

  • 1950s – Educated at Nelson College and Christchurch University in New Zealand, Research Assistant at Cornell University in the USA (1954-1955)
  • 1956-1958 – PhD in Physics at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, UK
  • 1958-1961 –Senior Research Fellow at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell, UK
  • 1961-1969 – Head of the general physics group at the Rutherford Laboratory, UK
  • 1969-1972 – Served in the UK Cabinet Office, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government
  • 1972-1980s – Head of the Astronomy, Space and Radio division of the UK Science and Engineering Research Council, from 1979 Under Secretary and Director of Science
  • 1972-1987 – UK delegate to ESRO/ESA
  • 1981-1987 – Vice Chairman (1981-1984) and Chairman of ESA Council (1984-1987)

Atkinson played a major role in the development of the UK’s national space programme in the 1970s and 1980s and was involved in the development of European space policy, first with ESRO and then through ESA from 1972 until 1987. He was in Michael Heseltine's delegation to the Ministerial meetings which led to the creation of the European Space Agency, and played an important role in drafting the new Convention, helping to ensure that space science was formally recognised in it through the Science Programme Committee. While Chairman of the ESA Council, he played a major part in organising the successful meeting of the Council at Ministerial level in Rome in 1985.

See also: Interview with Harry Atkinson from the Oral History of Europe in Space Collection

  • Joined French Air Force in 1930s after his studies
  • 1958 - promoted to General, became Director of the Aeronautics Department at the Ministry of Defence
  • 1962–1972 - Director General of CNES (and Chairman of ELDO Council from 1968-1970)
  • 1972–1973 - ELDO Secretary General

CNES represented the French government on the Councils of COPERS and ELDO and General Aubinière chaired the ELDO Council for three years. In 1972 he left CNES and became Secretary General of ELDO with a mandate to increase its efficiency after technical failures, redefine European space policy to include cooperation with the US in the post-Apollo programme, and develop a new launcher (Ariane). ELDO was later merged with ESRO to become ESA.

  • French cosmic-ray physicist, known for his discovery in 1938 of the Auger effect
  • 1948-1959 - Director of UNESCO’s Science Department and active in the creation of CERN in 1954
  • 1962 - became first President of CNES
  • 1964-1967 - Director General of ESRO

A meeting of scientists in Auger’s Paris home in early 1960 led to the establishment of a study group for European space science (GEERS and subsequently COPERS), of which he was Executive Secretary. He was appointed as the first Director General of ESRO in 1964. In response to the difficulties of the first years, extensive administrative reforms were planned during his tenure, but were only implemented after his departure in 1967.