In the news: David Southwood

August 22, 2003

If David Southwood, director of science at the European Space Agency (Esa), chose space science because he wanted to be like Captain Kirk, he is on the right track. Next month, the agency plans to launch Europe's first-ever mission to the moon, using Star Trek- style technology.

The unmanned lunar probe, Smart-1, is a new breed of spacecraft powered by an ion engine that uses solar propulsion. Captain Kirk's fictional vessel, the starship Enterprise, uses a similar engine. The craft, which is the size of a small washing machine, will produce an X-ray map of the moon that should give scientists a more definite idea of how it was created.

Professor Southwood took up his current position, which he has described as "the most interesting job a space scientist could aspire to", in May 2001.

He studied maths at Queen Mary, University of London, before doing a PhD in physics at Imperial College London in 1966. He then continued his research in the US, as a postdoctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In 1971, he returned to Imperial College physics department, eventually becoming head of the Blackett Laboratory, a post he held from 1994-97.

In 1997, he began working at Esa as head of earth observation strategy, where he introduced an earth science programme on the living planet. He returned to academia in 1999, as regent's professor at University College London and then at Imperial College, but after two years, Esa lured him back with the biggest challenge of his career.

Smart-1 will search the moon for a possible site for a robotic lander.

Professor Southwood says there could be a manned presence on the moon within 20 years.

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