Understanding the laws of the universe is fundamental to flying missions in space. But one spacecraft under Paolo Ferri’s care seemed to be particularly susceptible to Murphy’s law – ‘Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
In 1992, ESA’s first-ever reusable satellite, Eureca, was delivered into orbit (and later retrieved) by a NASA Space Shuttle. It spent just under a year in orbit, and presented a plethora of problems from Day 1. While it was ultimately successful, Eureca required constant care from engineering teams on ground as well as hands-on help from astronauts in orbit.
As Deputy Operations Manager for the mission, Paolo Ferri explains in his fourth masterclass how this intense period acted as a ‘school’ for him, as he and his team were put under immense pressure by this orbiting ‘box of surprises’ constantly on the edge of catastrophe and mission failure.
With 36 years’ of experience at ESA, Paolo Ferri is responsible for mission operations, and he has played a leading role in ensuring the success of missions like Eureca, ESA’s first-ever reusable satellite; Cluster, one of the longest-flying science missions; Venus Express, Europe’s first exploration of Earth’s ‘evil twin’; and Rosetta, humanity’s first landing on a comet.
In five episodes of ‘Leadership at Mission Control’, Paolo takes us through major events in his career at ESA, covering cornerstone missions, first attempts, overcoming technical challenges, building diverse teams, working under pressure and solving the unexpected problems that are part of any space endeavour.