The Inception of ESRO

The creation of ESRO began with the activities of Edoardo Amaldi, Italian physicist and one of the founders of the Conseil Europeen pour Recherche Nucleaire (CERN [European Committee for Nuclear Research]). In the sum­mer of 1958, after a conversation with his friend Luigi Crocco, a rocket pro­pulsion expert and professor in Princeton University’s Department of Aero­nautical Engineering, Amaldi proposed a European space program modeled on CERN. The new space organization should have high goals, Amaldi said, comparable to efforts in the United States and the Soviet Union, but have ‘‘no connection with whatsoever military agency.’’ He believed that it should be ‘‘open, like CERN, to all forms of co-operation both inside and outside the member countries.’’2

Amaldi learned from Crocco and from American aeronautical engineer Theodore von Karman some difficulties in modeling a European space orga­nization on CERN. Because the military had developed virtually all rockets, excluding the military would be difficult. Crocco also believed that it would be difficult to convince European parliaments to spend the huge sums necessary for space-based science research. Von Karman thought it necessary to include the military at the beginning to jump-start the civilian effort. He suggested working through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Amaldi demurred and eventually found a strong ally for his purely scientific space organization in his friend Pierre Auger, a French physicist and CERN ally.3

When Amaldi contacted Auger in February 1959, Auger was organizing the French Committee for Space Research. Auger was supportive ofAmaldi’s pro­posal and suggested the French organization as a model. French scientists and administrators were considering a two-phase program: a small initial effort based on sounding rockets, and a more ambitious program to include satel­lite launches and lunar or solar probes. After the two men met in April 1959,

Amaldi helped establish an Italian space research committee on the French model. Amaldi also sent a paper titled ‘‘Space Research in Europe’’ to promi­nent scientists and science administrators in Western Europe.4

These contacts led to an informal meeting of scientists from eight different countries at Auger’s Paris home in February 1960. At the next meeting, held in April 1960 at the Royal Society in London at the behest of the British National Committee for Space Research, the British presented their extensive space re­search plans and the possibility that the British government might offer the Blue Streak rocket as the basis for a European launcher. Auger hosted the next meeting in Paris in June 1960 to consider ‘‘A Draft Agreement Creating a Pre­paratory Commission for European Collaboration in the Field of Space Re­search.’’ 5 During the second Paris meeting, British delegates removed launch­ers from discussion because of negotiations under way between the British and French governments concerning the use of the Blue Streak. With launcher considerations eliminated, the scientists and scientific administrators focused on creating a European space research program using sounding rockets and satellites.6

Further discussions clarified the purpose and scope of ESRO and estab­lished goals for its initial scientific program and facilities. ESRO would sup­port space scientists throughout Europe. It excluded launch vehicles, although at the request of the Belgian delegation, it did include the development of sup­porting technologies. ESRO planners envisaged a two-phase effort: an initial program using sounding rockets, and a more advanced program of sophisti­cated scientific satellites.

Bruising negotiations determined the sites of ESRO facilities. To expedite coordination with ELDO, ESRO’s headquarters wound up in Paris. ESRO’s most important facility was its engineering unit to develop spacecraft and integrate scientific experiments, the European Space Technology Centre (ESTEC). Originally located in Delft, The Netherlands, ESTEC soon moved to the small coastal town of Noordwijk, north of The Hague. The telemetry data analysis center went to Darmstadt, West Germany, the sounding rocket range to Kiruna, Sweden, and a small science research center to Delft. A new sci­entific research center with ill-defined functions, located near Rome, satisfied Italian demands for an ESRO facility. In 1967 ESRO officials moved satellite tracking to Darmstadt, where combined with the data analysis center it be­came the European Space Operations Centre. ESRO established remote track­ing stations in Alaska, Norway, Belgium, and the Falkland Islands.7

European scientists originally conceived of ESRO as an organization run by scientists, for scientists, on the model of CERN. CERN provided an infra­structure for European physicists to perform experiments with particle accel­erators. In CERN’s organization, scientists determined the technical content of projects and infrastructure, and ran daily affairs. Administrators had little control over CERN’s funding, and significant overruns developed.

ESRO provided a similar service function to space scientists through provi­sion of sounding rockets, satellites, and data collection and analysis facilities. Scientists selected ESRO’s experiments, but, unlike in CERN, engineers devel­oped and operated the infrastructure. The British insisted on strong financial controls, ensuring that if ESRO overran its budget, it would cut projects in­stead of forcing governments into funding overruns.8 Because the founding scientists did not want ESRO’s scientific expertise to rival that of the member states, they restricted ESRO’s scientific research capabilities, making its engi­neering character more pronounced. ESRO’s engineering culture made it a very different organization from CERN.

Ten countries signed the ESRO Convention of June 1962: the United King­dom, France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, Den­mark, Spain, and Switzerland. ESRO came into official existence on March 20, 1964, with Pierre Auger as secretary-general.

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