Jan Wörner Blog | 26. March 2015 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

The tragedy of flight 4U9525

The crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525 has affected all of us over the last few days, leaving everyone shocked and saddened. The fact that, after a normal initial phase of its flight, the aircraft transitioned into a long descent before impacting on the French Alps initially led to wild speculation. The press repeatedly sought DLR's opinion, looking for statements. We declined any comments for reasons that are hopefully understandable, because we did not want to (and will not) contribute to the speculation.

The current assessment of what happened on board the Airbus A320 now points to deliberate action by the copilot. In this context, during a press conference, Lufthansa noted that DLR plays a role in pilot selection: "We have a lot of scope for examining the psychological suitability of pilots; the DLR tests are perhaps the leading process worldwide for this purpose." Media enquiries have turned from the technology to the people, and at the same time have multiplied.

It is true that the Department of Aviation and Space Psychology at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine carries out suitability selection of operational personnel such as pilots, air traffic controllers and astronauts for various clients.

This means that every applicant for the Lufthansa Flight Training School, for example, must undergo psychological testing prior to being hired. During this procedure, knowledge characteristics (for example, English and engineering), cognitive performance (for example, spatial awareness), psychomotor skills, multitasking and general personality traits (for example, leadership skills, cooperation with colleagues and the ability to work under pressure) are examined. These tests are compliant with both scientific standards and legal requirements.

To prepare pilots and controllers to face the situations they will encounter in their everyday working lives requires special efforts to be made in psychometric testing and training. In addition to processing information at a high level of abstraction, personality factors are becoming increasingly important during the probationary period of operational staff, as well as what are referred to as 'Non-Technical Skills'. These include decision-making and problem solving under high pressure, clear communication, and cooperative team management. In the design of new psychological procedures for aviation, there is an increasing use of computer-based technologies, with which the suitability assessment and training can be made even more precise and cost-effective.

In the target field 'Selection and Training', research findings are directly translated into practical applications. Continuous scientific research and development ensures the high quality of the work conducted at DLR and also ensures the adaptation to technological trends in aviation and the changing requirements for operational staff.

Certainly, such a procedure does not exclude all risks pertaining to an individual's negative development, especially as the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions is not a part of the psychological examinations conducted here at DLR.

Our and my personal concern over what has happened has surely increased due to recent public questions. Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of all passengers and crew members.

Jan Wörner Blog | 17. November 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

Not just any week – THE WEEK!

Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0).
With Alexander Gerst, just a few minutes after landing at Cologne-Bonn airport.

This past week has been simply amazing. In my position as chairman, there are often intense experiences, and time and again I am especially impressed with the performance of our colleagues, who apply themselves to their job and hence to DLR with full commitment. I am quite used to having to take into account multiple dates, but this week was very special. Alexander Gerst return from the ISS, Rosetta and Philae, and discussions in preparation for the ESA Ministerial Council. Each subject alone offers enough material for a blog post. read more

Jan Wörner Blog | 03. November 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner | 3 Comments

A very eventful time…

Philae landet auf dem Kometen
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
The Rosetta mission's Philae lander touches down on the comet (video still from 'Mission into the Unknown II - the Philae Comet Lander').

"If everything is under control, you are just not (driving) fast enough." This quote is attributed to several people, including, for example, racing driver Stirling Moss. This is scant reassurance these days, at a personally challenging time marked by so much activity. For one thing, it is time to continue working on the strategic orientation of DLR that was published in summer and, above all, to discuss and draft the parts that are still missing, specifically the alignment of the various technical and structural areas. Furthermore, the consequences at the organisational level – the governance – need consideration. In parallel with this important internal work, external activities are requiring our full attention and the associated commitment. read more

Jan Wörner Blog | 25. August 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

'Rockets are tricky'

Die 30 Galileo-Satelliten
Credit: ESA-P. Carril
Artist's impression of the 30 Galileo satellites.

This is a quote from Elon Musk, a pioneer in the field of commercial space travel and founder of SpaceX. It expresses his feelings when, on 23 August 2014, SpaceX experienced an unsuccessful test launch. Equipment used for spaceflight is always very sophisticated technically, due to the complexity of the systems involved, the fact that they have to be deployed without much of a safety margin and the relative scarcity of options for real-time adjustments. Although rocket technology has been continuously and very successfully developed over the years, the aforementioned aspects imply that 'absolute certainty' is a pipe dream. This fact reared its head once again during the launch of two Galileo satellites on 22 August 2014. read more

Jan Wörner Blog | 14. March 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

SOFIA… a success story in jeopardy

SOFIA am Flughafen von Christchurch, Neuseeland

[Translated from the German original on 19 March 2014]

Since 2007, a converted Boeing 747 SP has been flying to look into the depths of space through an on-board telescope. This airborne observatory is a joint venture between the US space agency NASA and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). As part of the current budget statement for NASA, it was announced from Washington that it would not be possible to finance continued operations as of 2015. This would not only be a major blow for the scientists that have planned a great deal of interesting astronomical research for the coming years, but also for the relationship between NASA and DLR. read more

Jan Wörner Blog | 21. February 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner | 2 Comments

Joint declaration – Franco-German Ministerial Council

Paris bei Nacht

The Franco-German Ministerial Council met in Paris on 19 February 2014 to discuss a wide range of topics. Aviation, space, energy, transport and security were all mentioned in the joint declaration, once again demonstrating that DLR is working on areas of high political relevance. This is interesting and important, but in addition, concrete decisions with regard to research and development that will affect our work here at DLR were included in the joint declaration. read more

Jan Wörner Blog | 20. February 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner

Setting the course… to dare for more DLR!

Gegenstromprinzip (Grafik). Bild: CC-BY KönigsPanda.

The German federal government has been getting down to business, the New Year is well under way, and institutional and personal resolutions and claims have been set down at various New Year's receptions. For the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) these are to keep up the good work, continue making important contributions to national and global challenges, and to make the best possible use of the money entrusted to us by the taxpayers. All this comes at a time marked not only by political manoeuvring, but also by large-scale societal changes that influence our actions. read more

Jan Wörner Blog | 12. November 2013 | posted by Jan Wörner

Science, science management, science policy … part 3

Science needs flexibility if it is to produce innovation from creativity. At the same time, it is understandable that taxpayers demand sensible use of the funds they provide. Dispelling this apparent contradiction – individual 'liberty' versus societal expectations – is the primary task of those involved in the planning of research activities; that is, science managers. Political bodies have the task of formulating policy anywhere – but only there – where it can be defined on the basis of democratic legitimacy that is derived from elections. read more

Jan Wörner Blog | 15. October 2013 | posted by Jan Wörner | 2 Comments

Science, science management, science policy… Part 2

In the previous blog entry about various aspects of research and development, I attempted to cast some light on the different roles of science, science management and science policy. Let us assume for reasons of simplicity (and quite contrary to reality) that all protagonists involved behave in their respective fields of responsibility in such a way that, ultimately, science operates optimally. In a slightly liberal interpretation of what Saint-Exupéry wrote: 'Science is not there to foresee, but to enable.' (The original quote by Saint-Exupéry is: Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it.). But this is by no means the end of the journey in practical terms. read more

Jan Wörner Blog | 01. October 2013 | posted by Jan Wörner | 7 Comments

German federal parliamentary elections and their consequences

Das DLR-Gelände aus der Vogelperspektive

On 22 September 2013, two events significant to DLR took place – the German federal parliamentary elections and 'German Aerospace Day', held in Cologne. By opening up our research labs and offering a wide-ranging programme of events, we were able to, together with our partners, the European Space Agency (ESA), Cologne/Bonn Airport and the German Air Force, welcome tens of thousands of visitors to Cologne-Porz. It was great to see that the research being conducted at DLR was met with such an enthusiastic response on the part of the general public; even long lines did not discourage visitors, both young and old, from taking part. The federal parliamentary elections were held on the same day and, in addition to polling voters about their party preferences, it would have been interesting to find out where they stood on issues relating to research and development. read more