Obituary Vittorio Manno (1938-2022)

1. Passing Away

Vittorio Manno (ISSI’s first Program Manager, picture taken in 2008)

Doctor Vittorio Manno, born on 31 July 1938 in Cuneo in Italy, passed away on 1 February 2022 in Brussels where he lived, after a long series of health problems. With his decease, we have certainly lost a fine colleague and a very dear friend.

His loyalty was unequalled.  His perfect and tasteful elegant silhouette, his sense of style, his kindness, his sense of humor, are still present in many memories of all those who had the pleasure and the luck of having him as their most valued colleague, their server and their friend. 

Vittorio had his roots in an old and noble family in Sardinia, his great-grandfather was a long-lasting collaborator of Charles Felix (Savoy Dynasty) King of Sardinia.


2. A True Space Science Hero

Vittorio completed his studies and conducted his early scientific research in Milano as a member of the Occhialini group. In 1967 he joined the European Space Research Organization (ESRO), as a research fellow working with Edgar Page. His research post was in the European Space Laboratory ESLAB at ESTEC in Noordwijk (the Netherlands), then under the leadership of Ernst Trendelenburg, who was very impressed by his scientific baggage, his appearance and elegance. He started as study scientist of the COS-B gamma-ray astronomy mission in 1968 and carried it through the study phases in the late 60s until its approval by the ESRO Council, and then became project scientist on the mission. Moreover, he also acted in the beginning as study scientist for the HELOS X-ray astronomy mission (Highly-Eccentric Lunar Occultation Satellite), that later evolved in the first European X-ray Observatory EXOSAT. One of us (JB), being a member of the mission definition team of European scientists, remembers him as being very active and instrumental in pinning down the mission performance characteristics by putting them on a solid and quantitative basis.

Succeeding Trendelenburg as ESA Director of Science in 1983, Roger Bonnet nominated him without any hesitation as “Deputy Science Director”.  In that essential capacity, Vittorio`s main achievements will certainly remain famous in history owing to his role in the elaboration, and then early management, of the Horizon 2000 program. His attraction to programmatic innovation, supported by an impressive enthusiasm and a remarkable courage in confronting difficult and challenging tasks, were crucial to the success of that program. In particular, his skills in dealing with human emotions and smoothly solving managerial problems were unprecedented. His drive for a successful implementation of the Horizon 2000 significantly contributed to the ESA science program becoming second in magnitude in the world only behind NASA.

In building the Horizon 2000 program set-up, one of us (JB) as chair of the Survey Committee met numerous times with Vittorio in his office in Paris to discuss how to handle a potential successful approach after previously failed attempts. The best start seemed to try and define several levels of space science projects with respect to scientific timeliness, scale size and budget. On the white board in his office, Vittorio originally tried to visualize this in terms of a number of concentric annuli representing different classes or scales of projects, each class then being segmented in parts representing various scientific disciplines. The emerging geometrical picture which remained posted on the white board in his Paris office long after he left ESA in 1989 gave a funnel-like appearance which, according to Vittorio had a strong resemblance to Dante’s Inferno and both of us, confronted with this visual concept, contemplated extensively whether such an ‘Infernal Approach’ could eventually lead to a ‘Hell of a Program’. And eventually it did: in a Benedictine Convent on the Isle San Giorgio in the Venetian lagoon, a splendid accommodation arranged of course by Vittorio, we arrived at a consensus and the rest is history.

Without any hesitation we clearly recognize that we were very lucky to have a friend of this quality and faithfulness to support both of us in that essential team-work.


3. The Diplomat

The success of Vittorio’s career can be attributed in no small way to his genetic sense of diplomacy. Following the unilateral decision by NASA in 1981 of the cancellation of their own spacecraft on the joint ISPM (International Solar Polar Mission) without any consultation of their European partner, legally captured in a Memorandum of Understanding signed by both ESA and NASA, saw ESA delegating Vittorio to Washington to most diplomatically but also most adamantly express ESA’s and the International space science community strongest disappointment. As a result, following long negotiations, the ISPM remained part of NASA’s program under the name Ulysses.

Still 40 years after that interagency crisis, Vittorio remains as the man beyond the scenes in many international space science endeavors.

His strong involvement in the creation and activities of the IACG (Inter Agency Coordination Group) in Padua, together with Beppi Colombo, assembling ESA, NASA, IKI, and ISAS in the study of Comet Halley in 1986 was essential for all 4 agencies remaining active in IACG until 2002. The foundation during the cold war era of a group committed to fostering cooperation between the world’s main space agencies, was a remarkable achievement whose success can in no small part be attributed to Vittorio’s highly developed gift for diplomacy and his organizational abilities. His connections within Italian society were very instrumental in the preparation and organization of the IACG and the presentation to Pope Jean-Paul II in 1986 of Halley space observations with all IACG heads of agencies being present.

In 1989, the Italian Government nominated Vittorio as Scientific attaché at the Italian Embassy in Vienna, which he left in 1995 following the invitation by Johannes Geiss (who passed away exactly two years-minus one day before him) to become the first science program manager of the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern. He was succeeded by Giacomo Cavallo, also Scientific attaché (Tokio), who implemented the continuation of Horizon-2000 and its extension Horizon 2000-Plus from 1994 on.


4. The Coordinator of Multidisciplinary Science at ISSI

At ISSI, the two of us, in our respective responsibilities, benefited from Vittorio’s remarkable eclectic scientific intuition, his management abilities and unique social skills. Those qualities greatly contributed to ISSI in becoming after nearly 15 years of his presence, a worldwide attractive destination for a total of 2059 new space scientists, Academicians and young scientists, leading the ISSI international teams, workshops and visitors. He was always a very gentle, helpful and hospitable host for all of them. Today, many will undoubtedly remember the tours around Bern that he organized and during which they could experience his very knowledgeable and experienced talent as a precious guide.


Johan Bleeker (SRON) and Roger-Maurice Bonnet (ISSI)