ESA Director to Retire Early

Johann Dietrich Woener

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ Wörner has announced he plans to leave his post running the space agency on Feb. 28, four months ahead of the original no-later-than date of June 30.

In a blog post, Wörner said a quicker transition was possible because his successor, Josef Aschbacher, already serves as ESA’s director for Earth Observation and is thus familiar with how the agency functions. In December, the ESA Council named Aschbacher to secede Wörner, who is nearing the end of his five-year term.

Wörner also cited planning work needed for the ESA ministerial in 2022. At that session, ministers from ESA’s 22 member states, two associate members and cooperating nation Canada meet to set the agency’s budget and policies.

Wörner mentioned the need to complete ongoing negotiations with the European Union on a financial framework partnership agreement to cover cooperation on space as a reason for Aschbacher to take over earlier than planned.

In his blog post, Wörner said he plans to his previous field of civil engineering.

I anticipate that I am about to experience a very abrupt change in my life: in 1995 I went from being a professor of civil engineering to the post of President of the Technische Universität Darmstadt and ever since have been working directly under government hierarchies: first, in Germany, under 10 German Ministers and since 2015 under many ESA Ministers , from our now 22 Member States, 2 Associate Member States and Canada.

On 28 February I will probably leave the post of Director General of ESA and return to my professional background in civil engineering. As I’ve said before, I consider it to be the most extraordinary job and a real privilege to be able to do it. But also, ESA is a very special organisation filled with a great many brilliant and highly dedicated people. People who, together with our Member States and industry, have consistently over many years achieved many great things. Of course, I will miss it.

How best to summarise my work these last 25 years at the helm of public organisations. Of course, I could pore over the record: a success here, a failure there. But, I prefer to quote the great Frank Sinatra and just leave it at this: “I did it my way”.