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The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA)

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    Momentum Member Spotlight – April 2015

    AIAA Congratulates Jean-Jacques Dordain

    by Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications

     

    JeanJacques_Dordain2 Continuing on its mission to highlight winners of AIAA’s major awards, the Member Spotlight swung overseas this month, falling on Paris, France, and illuminating AIAA Associate Fellow Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency. Dordain is the winner of the AIAA 2015 Goddard Astronautics Award. He will receive the award during the AIAA Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala on 6 May.

    Dordain joined ESA in 1986, after leaving the French National Office for Aerospace Studies and Research (ONERA) where he was the director of Fundamental Physics. After joining ESA, led the agency’s newly created Department for the Promotion and Utilization of the International Space Station. From 1993 to 2002, Dordain held several positions within ESA, including associate director of Strategy Planning and International Policy, director of Strategy and Technical Assessment, and director of Launchers. He became director general of the ESA in 2003, and has served three terms in that position.

    Dordain has overseen a long string of successful Ariane launches carrying important space science missions, such as the Rosetta comet chaser (2004) and the Herschel and Planck cosmic explorers (2009), as well as the placement of the Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station in 2008. Additionally, he oversaw the successful launches and on-orbit placements of the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE; 2009), the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS; 2009), the CryoSat-2 (2010) and the ADM-Aeolus (2013) Earth observation satellites – which have provided valuable data on the state of the world’s soil and oceans. He also oversaw the first launches of a Russian Soyuz rocket from French Guiana and the Vega new launcher, which placed the Proba-V vegetation observing satellite in orbit. He also oversaw the technical development of the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation and Copernicus environmental monitoring systems.

    Dordain has also grown ESA’s membership to include 22 European States, and has cemented several public-private partnerships with industry and commercial operators, as well as making sustained outreach to the defense sector.

    “I could not miss space: from entering ‘secondary school’ on 1 October 1957 – three days before Sputnik, to getting my engineering degree on 20 July 1969, I experienced ‘live’ the fantastic first steps of space exploration,” said Dordain when asked what inspired him to enter the field of aerospace. “I have just followed the next steps. The inspirational figures, for me, were obviously the first cosmonauts and astronauts, which were the best ambassadors of space, and then the engineers, starting with Wernher von Braun and Leonid Sedov,” reported Dordain when asked about figures who inspired him to pursue a career in aerospace. Dordain added “By following the ‘next steps’ early enough, I am lucky to have met a majority of them, in particular Wernher von Braun in Vienna, and Neil Armstrong at the Paris Air Show when I was still a young engineer. Those experiences were unforgettable!”

    When asked about his favorite career moment, Dordain commented that he has so many that it’s “always the ‘last one’ that is the favorite,” but for our interview Dordain allowed that there might be two “last ones.” First, the steps of ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft in 2014—waking up on 20 January and making its rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 6 August and also the landing of Philae on 12 November, along with the flight of the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV) in 2015. “I am so impressed by what we were able to do together in pushing into the frontiers of the unknown.” When asked if he had a favorite person in aerospace, Dordain replied “I have no favorite—all my colleagues are now my friends, from all continents of Earth, ‘I Never Walk Alone,’ it is a song and it is my life.”

    When asked what his advice is for young professionals, Dordain relayed that “once or twice a year, I welcome the young professional newcomers at ESA, and my message is the same for the last 12 years: Don’t let ESA change you, change ESA!’” He continued, “And I can extend [that message] to all young professional newcomers in the world’s space sector—‘don’t let the world change you, change the world!’ Your best chance to succeed is to work together. As I have read at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ‘Together, we are better.’” He concluded by urging everyone to “think high and global.”

    Dordain had three specific pieces of advice for college students seeking an aerospace degree: “First, follow your passion; you will enjoy your life. Second, learn to become the best expert in order to take the risks necessary for innovating and pushing the frontiers of knowledge. Expertise is the only way to reconcile risks and success, and finally, third: Expertise is not only technical, it is also human—you have to understand mathematics and physics, but you have to also understand your neighbor.” For students seeking to enter a college aerospace course of study, he advised: “Be curious and dream. Don’t forget to learn and don’t forget to dream.”

    Mr. Dordain shared his thoughts about AIAA as we closed the interview, offering: “Organizations such as AIAA are necessary to connect people: cooperation is based on connecting people, innovation is coming from connecting people of different expertise. The transfer of knowledge between generations is through connecting people of different generations and this transfer is two-way—connecting the younger generation which have not yet met the frontiers of the impossible with the experienced generation which have pushed the frontiers of the possible. Design of a global future requires [us] to connect [with] people all over the world, and happiness is stronger when you share with others. That is AIAA!”

    AIAA congratulates Jean-Jacques Dordain on his receipt of this year’s Goddard Astronautics Award, and thanks him for all of his contributions to the aerospace community, as well as for being chosen for the April 2015 AIAA Member Spotlight. We wish him the best in his continuing endeavors, and look forward to seeing his leadership of the ESA keep pushing the boundaries of the unknown ever farther away.