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Monday, 16 May 2016

The power of the little things in the big things

The title of this blog might seem a bit silly, and even phrased poorly.

Perhaps it is but I wanted a simple title to convey something which in my view is really simple and yet so powerful.

It is an undeniable fact that what makes machines works is the care taken in making sure that all the details are right. No machine, no grand scheme, no space mission, no policy would work if the details were not just right. 

So, yes, the details are important. Why else would there be the expression: the devil is in the details? An expression, by the way, that exists in more than one language.

But the details too have their place. And this place is none else than the refinement of the grand scheme of things.

The greatness of  a plan lies both in the goal that it aims for and in the details towards making it happen. An overarching aim, a worthy objective, a vision, if you will, of what should be striven for.
Dreams and responsible action are big goals - the details make them reality.

Details without a goal are just as lost and lonely as a goal without details.

In space activities all of this applies. And knowing when to address which with adequate intensity is of the utmost importance. Space activities are not one-offs. Each fits, each should fit in a grand scheme. No detail should be wasted by fighting by itself - wandering aimlessly in the vastness of vacuum.

For this reason it is big objectives that we need:
 - sustainability of space activities - clean space both in technology and through policies
- space situational awareness, space weather, space traffic and capabilities to protect assets and life both in space as well as on Earth - debris - active deorbit, just-in-time measures, asteroids
- space transportation as a seamless chain - from Earth and in orbit - as a service
- service oriented space
- science in all activities

For ESA and for me there is one overarching goal:
European spirit, identity and cohesion

I will be writing more about this.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

4 out of 8

Four of eight eggs have hatched.
It is the first time this has happened. Generally one or two do not hatched, but I have never had four unhatched eggs before, i.e. half in this case - not particularly good considering the effort of laying eggs.

The four hatchlings are well, the weather is good and hopefully will stay thus.

I just bought and installed a 2TB internal harddrive so that I can recording the happenings while I am away in Paris.

Paris - I can't believe it has been nearly three weeks. And what a wonderful three weeks. I met many new people and was showered with welcoming converstations with many different people with very different backgrounds and positions.

I have met two Sylvies, many Isabelles, Nicole, Elena, Ulrike, too of course Jean, Alexander, Toni, Franco, Fabrizio, ....the list is long! Ursula is helping me getting my organisational self sorted and Katrin is being a star at keeping me posted and getting me integrated. I saw some of my previous colleagues as well, which always makes me happy.

I had a full SSA day at ESOC last Wednesday thanks to some of Rolf's team members - Clare, Nicolas and Alexander - and I can only say thank you for welcoming me so. I met some of the others over lunch, Holger, Bertrand, ...

Rolf was so kind as to personally give me a mini-tour of ESOC (Darmstadt). I'm looking forward to my trip to ESTEC (The Netherlands) on the 18th. Though I have been there before, this will obviously be different. On the 17th I'll be at ECSAT, Harwell, UK.
I very much enjoyed my first exchange with Magali (Vaissiere). We spoke for about 1 hour and it felt like 10 minutes. It was pleasant but to the point and dynamic - just the way I like things.

I'm loving every bit of ESA with its wonderful complexity and mix.

Amongst the goals I have set myself is that of meeting every single person that works at ESA....

Monday I was briefly at the Space Propulsion Conference for the opening panel session on Space Missions: Mid and Long-Term Policies. I think, should I again be given the opportunity to moderate a panel, I will do it differently. I had asked the panel members to concentrate specifically on cooperation and this they did to my greatest pleasure!

You can check out the opening video if you wish - I cut it myself with the aim of underlying cooperation amonst space fairing nations and actors:

At any rate, I am thrilled to be at ESA and even more because of the job ahead - as Alvaro so nicely put it: "very interesting and plenty of possibilities for the future of ESA". I do truly believe that space is more than just inspiring - space can do so much for humanity and I will certainly do my utmost to contribute as best I can.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

First Day as PA

Arrival at 9 am, welcoming receptionist, ensuing picture for badge, followed by an appointed with a nice person from HR. Followed by many more talks with even more nice people from HR. I had a great morning!
Discovery of my office on the fourth floor. 

Followed by a very pleasant lunch with one of the Directors.
Received a key, met my nice office neighbours.

Followed by a discovery of the various levels of ESA HQ Nikis and of who sits where. Met more nice and friendly people. Asked for some posters to add some colour to my new office. Discovered some hardware along the way.

And finally had some coordination meetings with my new colleagues followed by a high level meeting. All in all, a wonderful first day!

And now I need to finish my lecture for Friday.
PA by day, lecturer by night.

Monday, 18 April 2016

ESA Programme Advisor at the ready?

Yes! Programme Advisor to the Director General at the ready!

Yes, I know, this is supposed to be a blog about birdies. Real birdies. Not about some human thinking that because she is taking on a new super cool job, with wonderful new perspectives and responsibilities, that she too can fly just like a birdy.

But I just can't help it. I am so eager to take everything that I have learned so far and put it at the service of ESA and hence of Europe! Working hard is something I am seriously looking forward to. That, together with all the challenges that I know lie ahead.

Tommorrow will be my first day at ESA and I am curious as to what it will bring my way.

Cooperation, new technologies and missions, new paradigms, more cooperation, mediation, meeting and interacting with many new people in many new disciplines, new dimensions, myriads of stakeholders - old and new - ... these only some of the aspects that will keep me busy....

What is there not to be excited about and hence feel like you are flying?

Saturday, 16 April 2016

High Season...

...I am thrilled!

A pair of Great Tits is nesting in the wood-concrete nesting box in the north-wing of the garden. 8 eggs so far and the female has started brooding.

I discovered a nest of Black Redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) in the carport.

Hausrotschwanz Brutpflege 2006-05-21-05.jpg
(source: wikipedia)

Two eggs so far. I will check again tomorrow. I have no idea how many eggs they generally lay. It is a mostly moss, twigs, dried grass nest. I will post pictures later.

And I saw a Blue Tit carrying moss into the wooden nesting box in the east-wing.

High season!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Birdies come and go

Yesterday was my last day at work, party and everything. I did not think that it would be quite so hard. Or rather, I knew that it would be hard but knowing is one thing, living it is another.

It feels weird leaving ones nest, as I call it, and at the same time it feels right. In some ways it is not different from when I left home for uni. In most ways it is exactly the same thing, the only thing being different, when all the details like space and time are shed, is how I see and relate to the events around me.

It feels weird because it is a strange mix of the things that I made to fill my life and of the people, each very special and unique, that quite spontaneously and of their own accord filled it even more in ways in which things never could.

I was asked if there are any earlier pictures of me at DLR...well here is one:

Back in days... in Kö a PhD Student who had decided that space transportation systems are THE enablers of all space activities.

But this is not a post intended for reminiscence. It is a thank you post and a forward-looking one.

Thank you to all those that pushed me forward not by pushing but just by serving my infinite curiosity and my enthusiam with chances.

The chance for a PhD, the chance to do testing at a testbench, the chance to build up a group and bring people together, the chance to pose questions and find and provide answers, to guide and be guided.....the chance to find solutions in scientific research, the chance to address high-level concerns and again bring even more people together to help decision makers provide the right answers, the chance to question standards and indicate alternative routes, and to then follow these other roads to success and shared joy and pride, the chance to grow and discover through hard work and dedication,....the list is truly endless,....

I, for one thing, I am looking forward to my next destination and even more to the road thereto.

I went to visit my PhD supervisor today - my second PhD - to inform him that I will not be able to continue as my road to ESA will no longer allow me to find the time to do what I had embared upon a few years ago (back then when I had but my group and research in Lampoldshausen): exoplanets and SOFIA.

I entered his office with a heavy heart as I felt that I had to part from something that I did not want to part from. I left happy having discovered a whole new level of interation with him: not student and professor, but rather two people interested in making a seemless chain of innovation in space a reality.


With great power - the power of giving and receiving chances - comes great responsibility.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Restless sleep

First night since nest building

It took the Great Tit female about a week to build her nest.

And tonight for the first night, she is sleeping in it. Which makes me believe that there is an egg too!


This is based on observations of past years. Great Tit females I have observed in the past started sleeping in the completed nest, only after they had started laying eggs.
As, however, this birdy seems to be going about things slightly differently she might be also ignoring what I just assume is a constant in the Great Tit world

I will change the camera view tonight and hopefully we will find out soon.
At any rate assuming she did lay an egg we can also just count the days (1 egg/day at most)...and perhaps that will also help.

...and...just because I can...a cool space video:

Friday, 1 April 2016

Just for the record

..yeah, just for the record. Oh and it was not an April Fools'...

Thursday, 31 March 2016

The more I know, the more...

...I know that I know nothing compare to all that there is that could be known.

It is the one amazing thing about bird watching, about science, about knowledge in general.

Much of what we do, think, much of how we act and interpret the world around us is based on strings of observations, some related some unrelated. We fill in the gaps and construct what we call knowledge.

Data - information - knowledge. There is a great deal of processing along the way.

I have now observed Great Tits building nests for the past 10+ years and had established what I thought was a solid hypothesis that Great Tits build their nests mostly out of moss, some dried grass and some soft material, like animal fur.

I always examined the nests once their owners had left and the hatchlings too. And twigs were just not in the mix.

In an earlier post this week (Just when things start getting exciting...) I commented on the fact that the nesting box was filled with twigs, thin ones, but twigs nonetheless. I conjectured that Eurasian Tree Sparrows might have been active in the nesting box as this is what I had observed in the past.

Well, my friendly readers, I was wrong. Or rather, I now think that I was wrong.

Why Sherlock?

Simple dear Watson!

Today, I observed, for the first time since bird watching, the female Great Tit bring in twigs. Together with some dried grass and moss, she did bring in a significant amount of small twigs.

Now, the question is: was I blind all these years?
Or is something different this year?
Or is this a revolutionary birdy that has decided to do things differently?

So now another chapter begins in the Nistkasten Adventure.

Oh, and Blue Tit also flew past, and peered inside. The season is starting sizzle with nestbox hunting. Oh! how I love it!!

Nest building....the first footage 2016...

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Something different this is a bit of different post.

It is kind of a surprise, but I don't know if it will work. So it is a double surprise, for the surprisee and the surprisor.

Many years ago, when I was younger and you even more so, two friends met, and did not speak. They did not speak, because, back then, they were not friends. They were meerly two students going about their studying, the one getting high on sugar, the other on discovering the world.

It took a while....many many stories in between which I shall not report here because it would just take too long...but at last they became friends and are every since!

So well, here is to you, as a surprise: Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Has Spring arrived at last?

Tonight, for the first night this year, no bird is sleeping in the nesting box. 

This happens when (a) the temperatures are high enough, and (b) when the birds start building nests. As these two generally happen at the same time, it is kind of hard to tell which one is the forcing factor. 

Today, a male and a female Great Tit examined both this nesting box (wood-concrete) and the wooden one out the front of the garden.  

I must say that nesting-box-apartment-search-time is one of my favourite! The birds engage in both searching, examining, courting rituals,...the calls...the movements, the careful examinations, the careful observing of the surroundings. It is one magnificent display and I could just watch for hours.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Birdy Big Brother

...not really much to add to that!

Citizen of the Galaxy... of many books I enjoyed years ago. One of Heinlein juveniles on the topics of slavery, responsibility and citizenship.


First edition cover (

"A wise man could not be insulted, since truth could not insult and untruth was not worthy of notice."

Colonel Brisby had once said, about Pop: "It means being so devoted to freedom that you are willing to give up your own . . . be a beggar . . . or a slave . . . or die -- that freedom may live."

"Give your mind a rest and use your eyes instead. There's a time and place for everything."
"You're right, Jim."
"Goodnight, son," the old beggar whispered. "Good dreams . . . and good luck!"

Setbacks, beginnings, and Gulliverian reflections

Setbacks are never an easy thing. 

Especially so when on the one hand you know that that which is in your range of influence is marginally not enough to undo the current state of affairs and move things forward constructively and on the other hand that which lies ahead is a larger endeavour, not separate just larger, enlightened with a broader range of influence and responsibility, the delightful responsibility that comes with the chance to enable, and is drenched with its apparently inseparable counterpart - the unrelenting supremacy of survival of the one over survival of content - multiplied and transmitted subliminally. 

An image suddenly springs to mind: Gulliver... Gulliver's Travels ( by Jonathan Swift, first published in 1726.

Large and small endeavours alike share obstacles and setbacks. How is it that building a nesting box to visualise what happens inside is not unlike larger endeavours?

I shall recount and we will see....

I have already partially recounted what I did to attain my goal of peering inside my first nesting box: 

What I did not recount is that prior to me starting, I, excited as I always am when I discover something new, be it the smallest screw ever seen - by me, or something as fascinating as proprioception in combination with the doings of gravitational microlensing...

 galaxy cluster: SDSS J1038+4849 - Hubble Space Telescope - Wide Field Planetary Camera 2

...spoke to everyone willing to listen about the adventure I wanted to embark on.
To my utmost surprise I was told that what I wanted to do would never work. 

What?! Something so utterly cool and all I get is: "it will never work".

"Yeah, because it won't" 

Cleverly insightful. 

I was upset and disappointed. And what was more I was upset and disappointed that I was upset and disappointed.  

Oh so really really silly really. The human condition of "not invented here" and of being a human unwilling to accept that there can be such a thing as "not invented here". 

Worries, fears, disappointment, isolationism.

I prefer responsibility, curiosity, fascination, openness, .... in the face of opportunities, challenges and dangers alike. 

If the universe can smile in the face of the forces at work, then I too shall do the same, unremittingly!

Just when things start getting exciting....

....the videoserver stops working! Argh! :-)

The images of last night show that a Great Tit is sleeping in the nesting box which already has some nesting material in it.

Now the wierd thing is: the material that is in there is clearly not moss. And that is a good or a bad thing depending on which birdy you wish to see nesting.

The current content is twigs. The twigs and the way they are placed may indicate sparrows. Perhaps Eurasian Tree Sparrows.

And hence the drama may unfold yet again. The usual territorial fight: Eurasian Tree Sparrows vs. Great Tits.

I have not seen many Blue Tits looking at the nesting box. Then again, I have not been around much to state that I have performed careful and extended observations, so I might be wrong.

I observed a Great Tit bringing in stuff thing morning. I will continue to observe and in the meantime try to fix the videoserver.

Until then I wish you all a serene Easter.

Friday, 1 January 2016


  [credit: Google]