Science & Exploration

A man for all missions: An interview with Detlef Koschny

20/08/2003 788 views
ESA / Science & Exploration / Space Science

Detlef Koschny, ESA Planetary Missions Division, fulfills a childhood dream by working across all of ESA's planetary missions, while doing research on his favourite phenomenon, meteor showers. He coordinates the operations of the science payload for ESA's missions to planets, such as Mars Express, SMART-1 to the Moon, and Rosetta, to a comet.

Detlef Koschny, Planetary Science Operations Manager, ESA Science.

Born 13 March 1962 in Pfarrkirchen in Bavaria, Germany.

BSc Mechanical Engineering and Masters in Aerospace Engineering, University of Munich; Masters Research into impact craters at CalTech in Los Angeles, United States; PhD in Planetary Science, University of Munich, Germany.

In 1994, Detlef gained a management position at the Max Planck Institute of Aeronomy, where he worked on the cameras now used on the Rosetta spacecraft. In November 1997, he moved to ESTEC to work on the Rosetta Science Operations. He moved into his present post in the Planetary Missions Division when it came into being in 2001. As well as encouraging the different project teams to use techniques and solutions used by other teams, Detlef manages a team of eight people and does research in his own specialist area, meteor showers.

In his spare time, Detlef enjoys looking through his telescope or playing the drums in ESTEC's jazz band, The TBDs.

Detlef is married with two children.

ESA: Your main work is trying to find ways to learn lessons from one mission to help another mission avoid similar problems. This must be extremely challenging - how do you coordinate so many different project teams?

Detlef Koschny

I start every week with a day of meetings, in which each individual team identifies their problems, and then we try to solve them during the week. Problems can pop up at any time, and so that is when we start running around like crazy trying to solve them. We try to pre-empt problems. For example, if we have solved a problem for Mars Express, we try to make sure that we avoid the same difficulty for Rosetta. In the long run, we hope to build up a group that will coordinate all missions, so that we automatically avoid such problems.

ESA: When did you first become interested in space science?

Detlef Koschny

When I was 10 years old, I spotted a star chart in a local newspaper. It said that if I looked at the sky with binoculars, I would be able to see the Andromeda Galaxy. About a week later, I noticed that my father had some binoculars, and so, one night, I stole them and tried to find this galaxy. I didn't manage it, but, by then, I was hooked. At 12, I was an avid amateur astronomer with my own telescope. After high school, I wanted to study astronomy, but they told me there was no future in it! Most of my education was in engineering. When I was first looking for a job, potential employers did not want to have me, saying it wasn't clear whether I was a scientist or an engineer. Now, though, I am very happy that my background is in both science and engineering, because that's what I need for my present job.

The constraints that scientists experience when they are trying to achieve their objectives with an instrument are technical constraints. For example, scientists come to me and say, "We cannot do what we want to do because there is a screw in the way". I look at the problem and try to solve it. And I would not want to be doing any other job!

ESA: There is also a scientific research aspect to your job. How does that fit in?

Detlef Koschny

This is my favourite part of the job. I have been studying meteor showers for several years now. Rosetta will be chasing a comet, and meteor showers come from comets, so my findings benefit the Rosetta mission. End of September 2003 there is an international meteor conference in Berlin, Germany, where I'll present my findings from last year's Leonids shower. It's really great going to these events - you get to exchange information with people who share your passion for studying meteors and mixing with them is very satisfying. My next project is to study the data from this year's Perseids meteor shower which I have recorded with an intensified-video camera. This keeps the scientist in me busy!

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