Director-General of ESA to retire early

The outgoing director-general of the ESA (European Space Agency) announced on January 8 that, 4 months ahead of time, he would call it a day at the end of February. In a blog article, Jan Wörner declared that he would bow out at the end of February after discussing with ESA Council chair, Anna Rathsman. This will enable Josef Aschbacher, the new director-general, to take charge on1st March. Wörner stated that the decision was based on many considerations. The Agency is already acquainted with Aschbacher, who has been serving as Earth Observation Director at the ESA since the year 2016.

The preparation for the upcoming ESA ministerial conference in 2022, the continuing talks with European Union on the financial arrangement identified as Financial Framework Partnership Agreement governing their joint projects, and the length of the transition as well as its repercussions, both internally and externally, were also other considerations. “Based on these different factors, the Chairman agreed, along with me, to recommend to the ESA Council, on March 1, 2021, that the new Director-General formally take up his duties,” he published.  “To ensure a successful transition, the duration until that day will be used.”

Wörner suggested just under a month ago that he had no intentions to leave until the completion of his tenure in the mid-2021. The organization announced at a press conference on the appointment of Aschbacher as director-general on December 17 that he would assume “no later than” July Wörner said that when questioned if that communication meant he could retire before that deadline, “I was citing the text that was accepted.  My contract lasts until June 30, and I am prepared as well as ready to execute my responsibility.”

In his blog article, Wörner stated that he had been able to “take stock of the scenario” ever since, mostly since Aschbacher was always a senior executive of the ESA. He continued that before the organization released the official job vacancy, he confirmed: “my preparation to resign the job as soon as the Member States considered acceptable in light of the situation following the newly elected Director-General.”

Wörner said he was preparing to return to his field of study in civil engineering before taking on a variety of executive roles beginning in the year 1995, first as the president of a university and then as leader of the German space firm DLR.   In the year 2015, he was appointed ESA Director General, with a 4-year term that was increased by two years to keep it from ending in the middle of arrangements for the Space19+ ministerial conference of the organization. Wörner was qualified for two further three-year terms but declared that he did not pursue them last February.