European space chief eyes Mars

July 11, 1997

THE EUROPEAN Space Agency's new director, Antonio Rodota, has promised cheaper, faster European space missions will soon follow Nasa's Mars mission success.

In the week when Nasa's search for life on the red planet was beamed worldwide, 61-year-old Mr Rodota, an Italian industrialist, took over the reins of ESA.

According to Mr Rodota, Mars Pathfinder has not just been a scientific success, but has also showed the public the frontiers of space research. "I think it will help us," he said. "The politicians need to have some sort of awareness that space is not a waste of money. Results of Mars Pathfinder will explain why it's important."

According to Mr Rodota, ESA must show that rather than "spending in space, it is investing". He added: "I think there could be room for increases in money from governments. It's our problem to try and demonstrate that the increased investment is wise."

Mars Pathfinder was ground- breaking not only as the first Mars landing for two decades, but also for being done in a relatively short time, with a limited budget.

This new Nasa approach to space research is beginning to take shape in Europe too, with talk of money for a quick mission to Mars in 2003. Mr Rodota says he forsees a time in Europe when faster and less costly projects, which carry added risk, will run alongside a longer term programme.

Mars Express, he says, could be the first of many faster missions.

With experience in streamlining and changing the workings of industry, Mr Rodota says he is prepared to bring his experiences to help transform ESA, a large intergovernmental agency.

* The Open University's live Open Saturday broadcast last weekend following the Nasa landing on Mars was watched by record OU audiences topping 800,000.

After the programme, more than 5,000 people called a phone line for more information, while 300 people took part in a website conference about Mars.

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