After a dozen years as head of the European Space Agency, Jean-Jacques Dordain made his last air show appearance as director general – and with replacement-in-waiting Johann-Dietrich “Jan” Wörner at his side the duo made it abundantly clear that the show will go on.

Dordain, who retires on 30 June, is a one-time French astronaut candidate who joined ESA in 1986 and has headed its International Space Station and launchers operations, has been in charge from ESA's Paris headquarters for an eventful dozen years. During his tenure, membership has grown to 22 European nations plus Canada, ESA's launchers armoury has expanded beyond the venerable Ariane to include Vega and Soyuz, ESA has become an indispensable partner to its US, Russian and Chinese counterparts, and missions including to the Rosetta comet-chaser have made global headlines.

Dordain is going out with good news, so he'll be a hard act to follow. Rosetta's star rose dramatically last week when Philae, the lander it sent down to comet 67P back in November, came to life against the odds as its batteries charged with increasing sunlight. And, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti arrived safely back on Earth after setting European and global female space endurance records on the International Space Station.

But while the space community – including colleagues in industry and at NASA, Roscosmos and other space agencies, not to mention quite a few journalists – will miss Dordain and his endearing sang-froid, Wörner's appearance at the Paris air show served notice that Europe's next act in space is set to be another virtuoso performance.

Like Dordain, the man who will stand down as head of Germany's DLR space agency to replace him is a gifted communicator with a common touch. Asked whether ESA would like to partner NASA on a reported plan to send a US robotic mission to land on Jupiter's moon Europa, Dordain played loose with the body's name to declare: “We won't let NASA land on Europe without us!”

Added Wörner: “If they do that without us, we will go to the Moon and bring home the American flag.”

Source: Flight Daily News