The OD Issue 3 - page 11

2014 · ISSUE 3
How did it all begin?
I saw
Scott of the Antarctic
at the Dragon
and was hooked on the idea of exploration.
Later at Cambridge I heard Sir Vivian Fuchs
talk on the radio about the 1957 Trans-
Antarctic expedition and was transfixed.
Shortly after, an advert appeared for a
student data processing job at the British
Antarctic Survey. This became a proper
job and for two years in the mid ‘80s I ran
experiments at the research station at Halley
to study the interaction between radio waves
and charged particles trapped in the Earth’s
magnetic field.
What was it like to live in
Fantastic! 18 of us were there, from widely
differing backgrounds, but all fascinated
by Antarctica. We were very isolated; a ship
came once a year to deliver supplies, and
we could only send limited messages home.
From November to February there were
100 days of 24-hour sunshine, and from
May to August 100 of 24-hour night. The
temperature could get up to around zero,
but it was regularly below minus 40. It is of
course possible that cold baths at the Dragon
prepared me for the Antarctic. Our base was
actually very comfortable and modern but
it was designed to be gradually buried in the
snow, so we lived underground. Built on a
floating ice shelf, it was about 10km from
the coast colonised by emperor penguins in
the winter. This was a favourite destination
for day trips by ski or (much more fun) by
skidoo. We could get away on short field
trips but we were so busy that no-one was
ever bored, and we all pitched in to help
each other.
How did you end up at ESA and
what do you do there?
After my MBA at Edinburgh I joined the
European Space Agency (ESA) to sell their
services to other organisations. Now as
Business Controller I am responsible for
people, buildings and IT. ESA has over
5000 staff and contractors on five sites
across Europe and is an intergovernmental
organisation of 20 member states. In my
directorate I look after nearly 200 staff and
a substantial budget here at the European
Space Operations Centre (ESOC) – which
you would know as Mission Control.
What’s it like running such
complex infrastructure?
Compared to all the exciting space missions,
my job is much more down to earth! We
fight for resources and implement budget
savings, as in all businesses. But it is really
great when something happens that reminds
you why you do what you do. I was here
when the Huygens probe landed on Titan,
the largest moon of Saturn almost a billion
km from Earth. It flew through space for
nearly seven years and no-one knew if it
would work, but it did – perfectly.
What exciting space projects are
coming up?
In 2014 the unmanned spacecraft Rosetta,
launched in 2004, will rendez vous with
comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko beyond
the orbit of Jupiter. It will accompany the
comet on its journey towards the sun over
the following year and will place a lander
on its surface. This will be an extraordinary
opportunity to discover what comets are
really made of and will tell us a lot about the
early days of the solar system. Then the next
big science mission, Gaia, will be launched in
2013 or early 2014. It will map the positions
of a billion stars in our galaxy with very high
precision and help us understand better
how our galaxy formed. In manned space,
astronauts will be going to the International
Space Station to run experiments aimed at
improving technologies here on Earth. We
will also be developing the follow on to the
highly successful Ariane 5 rocket that has
become one of the most reliable launch
systems in the world.
What’s happening with Mars
The current Mars Express mission, launched
in 2003, has produced very good scientific
results. ESA is working on ExoMars with the
Russians which will involve a lander mission
in 2016 to study the atmosphere, and a rover
mission in 2018. One aim is to see if Mars
could have supported life in the past.
And on the ground?
Well not that far from the Dragon we are
currently developing a new ESA site at
Harwell near Didcot. From 2015 there
will be about 100 people working there,
mainly in the field of telecommunication
applications. Government has
acknowledged that the UK space industry
is worth about £9bn per year, and this has
been seeded by the UK contribution to ESA
of about £250m per year. In recognition of
this, ESA was asked create a centre in the
UK to foster space innovation.
How relevant is ESA to our
everyday lives?
It impacts on meteorology,
telecommunication and navigation. New
satellite systems will improve weather
forecasting and the new Galileo GPS
system, together with the US system, will
provide unprecedented accuracy in global
navigation. All telecomms rely heavily on
geostationary satellites, and our numerous
Earth observation missions help to keep
track of changes due to warming or
destruction of rainforest.
What does the future hold for
space exploration?
We have not yet visited the icy moons of
Jupiter, which could harbour liquid oceans
and the possibility of life. The search for the
gravitational waves predicted by general
relativity will almost certainly only succeed
in space. The possibility of mining asteroid
bodies for rare elements is being seriously
discussed. And we have to think of the
threat from asteroid collisions, such as the
meteorite that landed in Russia causing
widespread damage earlier this year.
There are so many possibilities – the sky is
not the limit!
From an unassuming office block in central Darmstadt,
Dr Toby Clark
(OD 1975) commands the resources that put rockets into space.
As Business Controller for the European Space Agency, Dr Clark makes
possible a host of space activities that will answer big questions and
provide a better quality of life on planet Earth. He spoke to The OD
about his extraordinary life in exploration.
“The next big science
mission, Gaia, will be
launched in 2013 or early
2014. It will map the
positions of a billion stars
in our galaxy with very
high precision”
ESA/CNES/Arianspace – Service Optique
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