ESTEC hosts Open House Day
NOORDWIJK, the Netherlands — On Sunday, October 4, on the 58th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik-1, ESA’s (the European Space Agency) technical heart and the largest space site in Europe, ESTEC, opened its doors to the public as part of the Netherlands weekend of science and World Space Week. This was only the 4th time in history that ESTEC (European Space Research and Technology Centre) opened its doors and let the general public see what is going on behind the normally closed doors of the satellite test center.
A few minutes before 10 a.m., Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers “opened” the open day when he came on stage and welcomed the first visitors. He then introduced his fellow European astronauts Claude Nicollier and Michel Tognini. Two other ESA astronauts, Jean-Jacques Favier and Claudie Heignere, were delayed by heavy fog.
As soon as the doors opened, the already large crowd wandered to the different buildings of the site. In the large satellite test center, visitors could see the actual flight modules of the Bepi-Colombo spacecraft – due to be launched on a mission to Mercury in early 2017. The three modules were placed safely behind glass within the cleanroom conditions. The ESA-made Mercury Planetary Orbiter and the Mercury Transfer Module that will fly the rest of the spacecraft to the first planet of our Solar System and also the Japanese made Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter. During the day, the waiting line to get into the test center became longer and longer and people had to wait about 45 minutes to get a glimpse of the satellite.
Another crowd magnet was Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers. The two lectures he gave during the day were in a fully packed room with security closing the doors to prevent more people coming in for safety. A special session for kids only in the Dutch Space Tent was full more than half an hour before Kuipers came on stage. The waiting line for autograph sessions of the other ESA astronauts was also long, but all 5 astronauts took the time to please everybody to sign lots of photos and pose for photographs.
In the Erasmus building, visitors could see two flown spacecraft – The European ARD capsule (launched on the third Ariane-5 flight), and a Russian Photon science capsule. And as the main attraction, a full-scale mock-up of the European Columbus module – which is part of the International Space Station. In the back of the main hall of the Erasmus building, visitors could see a variety of Mars rovers that ESA is currently testing for future missions. Among them is a full-scale model of the ExoMars rover that will be launched in 2018.
At the end of the day, more than 8,800 people visited ESTEC during the event – the largest crowd ever during the four-year history of the event.
A native of the Netherlands, van Oene became ‘infected’ with the ‘space virus’ by an enthusiastic school teacher in 1981. Since 1994 he has been a freelance space photographer and writer for magazines and websites in Holland, Belgium and ‘Spaceflight’, the magazine of the British Interplanetary Society.
van Oene is also the co-founder and CFO of SPACEPATCHES.NL. This Netherlands-based foundation currently produces all the official Soyuz crew patches for the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.