This weekend I took the family on a field trip. To the ESA ESTEC Open Day in Noordwijk, in the beautiful Netherlands.

Before I being I’d like to thank ESA for offering this opportunity, and all the staff involved, because everybody was really cool and awesome!

We arrived just in time for the opening ceremony, but sadly we couldn’t really understand anything because people all around us were oblivious that something was actually happening and kept on talking…

After handing in our tickets and having our bags looked at we headed towards the main building, just like pretty much everybody else. In retrospect this may have been a really stupid idea, but I guess we’ll learn from our mistakes. Either way, we entered the building, just as a Stormtrooper, an Imperial Officer and an Imperial Guard were exiting, which was confusing, and we made our way to the first exhibits.
The first big mission on display was the Rosetta Mission, displaying scale models not only of both the Rosetta probe and the Philae lander, but also of Comet 67P itself. We then started making our way towards the conference center, but got sidetracked by way too many cool and interesting things, like miniature Ariane rockets, videos of rocket launches, and and and… So we were too late to drop into the lecture of Andre Kuipers, a dutch astronaut who had the opportunity to spend time on the ISS. Since we missed out on that we lined up to join in on his autograph session, which got my son a nice autograph and a photo together with a real astronaut. He had been really excited about meeting the astronauts before we set out on our trip, so I am sure that’s something he’ll remember fondly for a long time.

After lunch I had the opportunity to have a little chat with a team member of the James Webb Space Telescope. This is a mission I am very excited about, and so was the guy I talked to. He told us how the JWST is so big they’ll launch it folded up, and it’ll spend quite a bit of time unfolding before it’ll be ready for operation. He also explained the five-layer-heat shield and how it’ll keep the JWST cool, which is pretty essential, as it will be operating in the Infra Red.
Following this we made our way towards the testing center in order to have a look at the actual BepiColombo spacecraft, which will fly to Mercury in 2017. A member of the team told me that BepiColombo was comprised of 3 parts, 2 from ESA, and one from Japan, which will split up upon arrival to study things like Mercury’s magnetosphere and composition.
Both the JWST and BepiColombo will be launched from French Guiana using Ariane 5 rockets.

As we were getting a bit tired, and still having to face a 3 hour drive home we decided to do a last round of the main building and then drag ourselves to the car. On the way to the main building we once again came across the previously mentioned trio of a Stormtrooper, an Imperial Officer and an Imperial Guard, and upon arrival found the place relatively empty. That gave me the opportunity to have a chat with a member of the Rosetta team, learning that while Philae did wake up it will now continue its cycle of falling asleep and waking up, and can in fact not stay operational, and that the orbit of Comet 67P takes it all the way beyond Jupiter, on a 6 year orbit. We came by the exhibit of the Lisa Pathfinder probe, which is scheduled to launch this November in order to look for gravitational waves, and the Cheops mission, which will be used to have a closer look at exoplanets. Talking to a Cheops mission team member he asked me if we were enjoying ourselves, and I said that we totally were, but that I was wondering were I could hand in my application, giving “I’m pretty good at Kerbal Space Program” as my main qualification.

Here’s a fun, little side-note: At the Lisa exhibit I ran into a guy who, like me, has backed the Arkyd Space Telescope Kickstarter, only that he had a T-shirt.

We finally made our way back to the car, and then home. Being forced to drive 100 kph on dutch highways is quite unbearable for a German. I was glad once we crossed the border into the country where you can drive as fast as you want.

By the way, another mistake was not using the polarization filter on my camera. Glass is not the camera’s best friend.
I sincerely hope that I have not made a mistake on the information I have passed on here. Any factual error in what I have said above is completely on me, and certainly not to blame at the awesome people that I have had the pleasure to talk to.

As a space enthusiast this was a very exciting trip for me, but also my family enjoyed this little trip into space. We have learned a lot and have seen many really cool things.

Thank you!
Dennis Wronka