A Traveler in SpaceCopyright: Andreas Schmitter
In his laudation, Jan Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency ESA, lauded the award winner’s pioneering spirit, summarizing Thomas Reiter’s varied career. During the Cold War, when astronautics was in its infancy, the field was dominated by the desire to win the “race in space” between the Cold War rivals. Today, fortunately, astronautics is characterized by international collaboration largely transcending earthly political crises. Thomas Reiter can be seen a representative of this paradigm change in astronautics.
According to RWTH rector Ernst Schmachtenberg, Reiter is an internationally recognized researcher who like no other German engineer symbolizes the departure into new and distant worlds. Moreover, “with his enthusiasm, Reiter is capable of conveying the sense of adventure that can be found in research.”
In Nine Minutes into Space
The award winner was “overwhelmed“ by receiving this honor, which he gladly accepted, also on behalf of other astronauts, such as Reinhold Ewald and Gerhard Thiele, who were among the audience of about 180 invited guests.
“RWTH is one of the most important universities in Germany, equipping prospective engineers with the education and training necessary to contributing to new technological developments, not only in astronautics,” said Reiter. As an impressive example of the University’s contribution to astronautics, he named the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, components of which were developed by RWTH physicists. In the search for antimatter, which is expected to give us important information about the origin and development of the universe, the device aboard the International Space Station is conducting precision measurements of cosmic ray composition.
Reporting on his experience as an astronaut – he spent 350 days in space, more than any other European astronaut –, Reiter took the audience on an exciting journey into space. He shared his impressions of approaching the carrier rocket on the launchpad, which was “steaming and hissing, like a wild beast, and containing 280 tons of liquid nitrogen and kerosene.” On his way to the space capsule, he just thought, “just don’t sprain your ankle now …” Then came the countdown and the pre-flight procedures, and then, after acceleration and nine minutes of travel into space, arrival in orbit.
During his missions, Reiter completed comprehensive scientific experiments in the fields of materials science, geology, and medicine, with the aim of investigating, among other things, the causes for osteoporosis, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. “In astronautics, the foremost goal is to gain new insights, to enhance our knowledge of life on earth and our environment,” said Reiter. Not least, it is about technological innovation and the understanding between nations.
The Aachen Engineering Award
The Aachen Engineering Award, initiated in 2014 by RWTH Aachen and the City of Aachen, is annually awarded to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the positive perception and/or further development of engineering with his or her life’s work. Past award winners are Professor Berthold Leibinger, partner at TRUMPF GmbH + Co. KG, and Professor Franz Pischinger, founder of the powertrain and vehicle engineering company FEV GmbH.
As the Lord Mayor of Aachen, Marcel Philipp, explained, the Aachen Engineering Award demonstrates the close collaboration between the City and the University. In his view, the University is important for the City, as its graduates, many of them in engineering, start companies and thus constitute an important economic factor for the entire region.
Sparkasse Aachen is the major sponsor of the events surrounding the award; VDI, the Association of German Engineers, has sponsored the sculpture, which was designed by the Mexican artist Mariana Castilla Deball.