Bernhard Fleck

Bernhard Fleck, SOHO Project Scientist

German, Head of the SOHO Project Scientist Team, based at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, USA

My interest in the Sun really began at university, fuelled by an excellent professor at the University of Würzburg where I studies physics. On completion of my PhD I remained at the university for another year to do post-doctoral studies in solar physics, then I was hired by ESA’s Space Science Department at ESTEC to work on SOHO, the joint ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.

I remained in the Netherlands working on this project for over two years before transferring to the Goddard Space Flight Center outside Washington, shortly before the launch. ESA provided the spacecraft and 9 of the 12 instruments are European, while NASA was responsible for the launch, and controls and monitors the spacecraft 24 hours a day.

In my present job I am responsible for the scientific aspect of the SOHO project and for optimising the scientific return. This means being in charge of the team of operations staff and scientists working here at the centre on this project.

For me this is very enjoyable and great fun. SOHO is the most exciting solar space mission ever launched and it’s great to be a part of it. I work with a truly international team and we also have a constant stream of visiting scientists who come here from all over the world in search of the data they need for their research. To me this is the Mecca of solar physics and it is a privilege to be at the centre of it all. Nearly every day there is something exciting happening and thanks to SOHO, so many new discoveries have been made about the Sun and its atmosphere.

When I was a teenager I never thought I would have a job like this. Originally I wanted to make a career in music, then I became interested in physics and, through my professor, particularly in solar physics. This just shows how difficult it is to plan your life. The direction of mine changed through meeting the right person at the right time. Undoubtedly I was fortunate to come into contact with excellent teachers who managed to pass some of their inspiration onto others.

I believe that if an opportunity opens up before you then jump at it, but of course, you also need a lot of luck. In 1998 we nearly lost the SOHO satellite through an operational mistake. It was only through three months of really hard work - day and night, Saturdays and Sundays - and the fantastic team effort of all involved, that we managed to get it back. It was a period of my life that I will never forget; if we had lost SOHO then I would probably now be doing a very different job.

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