Obituary Jean-Marie Luton 1942-2020

Jean-Marie Luton (Credit: ESA)

Jean-Marie Luton passed away on 16 April 2020 at the age of 77. He was ESA’s fourth Director General, serving from 1990 to 1997. In that capacity, he was fully involved in the setting-up of ISSI. 

He was born on 4 August 1942, in Chamalières, near Clermont-Ferrand, France. After graduating in engineering from the Ecole Polytechnique in 1961, he joined the aeronomy department of the French national research institute, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Here he worked in geophysics research and on an experiment for the NASA OGO-6 satellite, launched in June 1969 and designed to study the various interrelationships between, and latitudinal distributions of, high-altitude atmospheric parameters during a period of increased solar activity.

He was appointed special research advisor at the French space agency CNES in 1971, and then seconded to the French Ministry of Industrial and Scientific Development. There he participated in the European negotiations that took place in the framework of the European Space Conference which led to the establishment of ESA in 1975, emerging from its predecessor organizations ESRO and ELDO.

As French delegate to the ESA Council, he also served as the Chairman of ESA’s Administrative and Finance Committee. In February 1989, he was named Director General of CNES, a position he left in October 1990, to take up duty as ESA Director General, succeeding Prof. Reimar Lüst who passed away this year on March 31st .

During Jean-Marie Luton’s terms of office as Director General, ESA conducted several successful space science missions. The Ulysses mission, the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and he first servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, were all carried out in the 1990s. During this period, Ariane 4 also successfully launched Meteosat-5 and -6 as well as ERS-1 and -2. He was of great help in resurrecting the Cluster mission which was destroyed during the launch of the first Ariane5 launcher.

When he joined ESA in 1990, he was fully involved in the negotiations with Switzerland to create ISSI, and had frequent meetings with Johannes Geiss, Peter Creola then Swiss delegate to the ESA council and Hans-Peter Schneiter President of the Pro ISSI Foundation. His very positive support to the concept of ISSI and the friendly relationship he developed with his scientific colleagues and administrative Swiss friends until he left ESA in 1997, when he becomes President and Director General of Arianespace, were crucial to quickly create and develop ISSI in its very early days.  

Through his important role in the establishment of ISSI and his long-lasting involvement in the development of European space and Earth science, Jean-Marie Luton has offered to the European and International space research community an essential support, allowing them to take full benefit of ISSI, in a broad field of scientific disciplines, in Solar System exploration, astronomy and Earth sciences.

Roger-Maurice Bonnet, International Space Science Institute