ESA´s billion-star surveyor Gaia, seen here being mounted to its Soyuz launcher last year, was launched on 19 December. Gaia´s goal is to create the most accurate map yet of the Milky Way, making precise measurements of the positions and motions of roughly 100 billion stars to help answer questions about the origin and evolution of our home galaxy.
In this issue, we join the celebrations as the space community marks the anniversary of the construction of Europe as a space power and 50 years of unique achievements in space. Fifty years of European cooperation in space is an anniversary for the whole space sector in Europe, which can be proud of its results. But what lessons can we take from this first 50 years?
ESA's Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain introduces our special features: a foreword written by guest contributor Dr John Krige, followed by the first of three installments in a complete chronology of important events over this period of European space history. Dr Krige has just published a book that describes the history of ESA from its origins in the two intergovernmental organisations, ESRO and ELDO, that preceded it in the 1960s, through its establishment in 1975 and on up to the present. Dr Krige answers the questions, 'What image do we get of ESA from this study?' and 'What are the lessons of this detailed history?'
'Copernicus: Moving From Development to Operations' is timed to coincide with the launch of Sentinel-1A, the first Copernicus satellite mission, at about the same time as the launch of the EU Copernicus programme. These events mark the beginning of the Copernicus operational phase and a major milestone for Earth observation in Europe.
In 'Getting 'Space' Experience on Earth', we take a look at the portfolio offered by ESA´s Education and Knowledge Management Office for experiments to be built by university students. These range from drop-tower tests, hypergravity centrifuge tests, sounding rockets and stratospheric balloons campaigns - all designed to help young people gain and maintain an interest in science and technology.
Next there is the annual look back at highlights of the previous year - and some images that we didn't get to publish at the time but we think they're still impressive enough to share.
We round off with a reminder that every spring, ESA´s ESRIN centre opens its doors to primary and secondary students, aged 8-13 years, together with their teachers. This event, which has taken place for the last 14 years, attracts children and teachers from over 30 schools in the Rome area. This year, the event is held between 18-21 March. Click here for more details.
The ESA Bulletin is published four times a year to inform the space-interested public of ESA´s activities. In addition to a wide range of articles, every issue provides an overview of the status of ESA's major space projects.
The full archive of Bulletins is also available at ESA's Publications web site, www.esa.int/publications