Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ Wörner is Director General of the European Space Agency. Wörner studied civil engineering at the Technical University (TU) Berlin and TU Darmstadt, from where he graduated in 1985. After his graduation he worked for consulting civil engineers Koenig und Heunisch and in 1990 he was appointed as a professor of Civil Engineering at Technical University Darmstadt, where he was Head of the Test and Research Institute. Before being elected as President of TU Darmstadt in 1995, he held the position of Dean of the newly established Civil Engineering Faculty. Wörner headed the university from 1995 to 2007 and succeeded in making it the first autonomous university of the Federal Republic of Germany. From 2007 to 2015 he served as Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the head of the German delegation to ESA. From 2012 to 2014 he served as Chairman of the ESA Council, before becoming the agency’s Director General.
Wörner begins his interview by telling Sarah Cruddas that asteroids are impressive parts of the solar system and that as such they can be very important for the future. They present both opportunities and challenges. Addressing the challenges first, he spoke of ESA’s Space Safety and Security programme that was awarded €500 million in November 2019 by ESA’s Member States. A significant portion of this money will go towards ESA’s Hera asteroid mission, which works in tandem with NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. He likes to think of DART as playing billiards in space because it will crash straight into asteroid Didymos b in an effort to change the space rock’s orbit. ESA’s Hera mission will then arrive to survey the asteroid. This data will allow planetary scientists to understand the asteroid and the deflection that took place. Wörner finishes by talking about the opportunities that asteroids hold, such as the resources that he hopes we can use in the future.