Martin Turner, 1942-2009

Martin Turner, a leading British space scientist who was appointed CBE in 2004, has died.

May 28, 2009

He was born in Bury St Edmunds on 7 October 1942, but grew up in Harwich and attended the county high school. He gained a BSc and PhD in physics at Durham University and then moved to Milan to study cosmic radiation under Beppo Occhialini.

He returned to the UK in 1972 to join the X-ray Astronomy Group at the University of Leicester. Inheriting and building on the university's reputation in counter design, Professor Turner soon became an acknowledged expert in X-ray detection techniques. His combination of scientific skill, calm authority and growing international stature made him the ideal choice to lead the development of X-ray instrumentation on several space missions in which the Leicester group played a major role.

More specifically, Professor Turner was responsible for delivering major instruments for Europe's first X-ray mission, Exosat (1983-86), for the Japanese Ginga spacecraft (1987-91) and for the European Space Agency's (ESA) XMM-Newton Observatory (1999). The XMM-Newton EPIC camera continues to perform flawlessly after a decade in orbit, providing unique data for astronomers worldwide, as indicated by more than 700 citations for the main paper on the subject that Professor Turner and his colleagues published in 2001.

An inspiring teacher for both undergraduates and postgraduates, he was the author of Rocket and Spacecraft Propulsion (2000), based on a spacecraft dynamics course, which has now been successfully updated twice. A more popular book, Exploration Mars (2003), is considered one of the best accounts of the scientific, engineering and human challenges of a manned mission to Mars.

Right up to and beyond his retirement in 2008, Professor Turner maintained his commitment to X-ray astronomy as a co-principal investigator on a proposal for a next-generation X-ray space observatory. Although plans were originally submitted to the ESA in 2007, they have recently been merged with Nasa's parallel research programme to form the next world-class mission in X-ray astronomy, the International X-ray Observatory, now targeted for launch in 2018.

For Ken Pounds, emeritus professor of space physics at Leicester, "Martin was a pillar of strength in the X-ray Astronomy Group over nearly four decades. He was a pleasure to work with, very reliable, very constructive and ingenious - at the core of the whole enterprise."

Professor Turner died of mesothelioma, contracted by asbestos dust inhalation, on 6 May. He is survived by his wife, Josephine, a daughter, two sons and four grandchildren.

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