Stamatis Krimigis: From the Rocket War in Vrontado, Chios to NASA Rockets

Thessaloniki.- By Diamantenia Riba, ANA

Nobody would have imagined, the son of Mike, the “American”, who participated in the “rocket war” at Vrontado, Chios, would be constructing actual rockets, reaching the nine planets of our solar system! This achievement is attributed to Stamatis Krimigis, an internationally renowned scientist, who even today, at the age of 73 continues to be actively involved in his pioneer research projects and applications in NASA. He is overtaken by the exact same feelings of excitement, every time he makes a new discovery, just like the 60’s when he took his first steps to the unexplored, at the time, magical space world.

Stamatios Krimigis with Greek Minister of Education Anna Diamantopoulou

The Greek scientist has been awarded with a series of honorary distinctions, such as; President of the International Astronautics Academy, Honorary Director in the Space Department of John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, National Representative of Greece in ESA, member of the Academy of Athens, are only a few.

It was not a coincidence that the International Astronomer’s Union (I.A.U.), named an asteroid after Dr. Krimigis, 8323 Krimigis, in his honor.

In 2002, during the World Space Conference, he was awarded with the Space Science Cospar Award, the highest honor of the international scientific space community. The scientist has also been honored twice with the NASA Gold Medal (1981 and 1986) and several diplomas for his outstanding scientific achievements.

Greece honored him in 1995 with the Order of the Phoenix Commander Gold Cross. On September 2010 Professor Krimizis, willingly accepted to contribute to his homeland, offering his services as President of the newly established National Research and Technology Council.

Stamatis Krimigis is an optimistic person, who believes that, as long as there is a political will, which is given in the current phase, a strategic plan can be implemented, so as to provide the desired impetus for development through research and innovation. The scientist, in his interview to ANA – MPA, news agency, states that the funds, originating from the EU, must be correctly used, which is a prime concern of the National Research and Technology Council members, mainly Professors from Academic Institutions abroad.

“For the time being we have a very positive response from the political leadership of the Ministry of Education, and our collaboration is effective. We represent meritocracy and adherence to international procedures and so far the Minister has accepted all our proposals as a council’, he states. Within the first nine months of the council in operation, the correct basic steps have already been taken, supports Mr. Krimigis.

Furthermore, Minister Anna Diamantopoulou has announced the “Excellence” program, directed towards the funding of researchers from Greece.

“The main issue is that research must be effective and associated with innovation and entrepreneurship, to enable the establishment of innovative companies, exploiting the research findings, so that we can start moving towards a positive direction in our economy”, notes Mr. Krimigis, while expressing his concern over the fact that many young people, needed for the country’s development, are migrating from Greece.

From their very first session, the Council members, on September 2010, requested the new leadership of the General Secretariat for Research and Development to provide them with the required data.

“We are not trying to innovate, but establish principles, methods and sound management, as in other countries”, he states.

Stamatis Krimigis also refers to certain obstacles, and unprecedented methods in establishing centers, hosting a disproportionate number of administrative staff, without researchers.

Nonetheless, the eminent scientist is pleased to discover a positive change in attitudes, at least in his conversations with the Minister of Education, the Deputy Minister and General Secretaries, noting that the “Achilles heel” of the Greek state is public administration, which is in need of restructuring.

Stamatis Krimigis, remains optimistic; “When you are dealing with space research, as I did all my live, if you are not optimistic that the machines you design will operate, then you cannot be part of this sector. But it is one thing to be optimistic without a reason, and another to have already made the necessary preparations, chosen the people who will be able to contribute and who are also trustworthy of carrying out the required work. This is a key factor”, he states.

From Chios to becoming a NASA pioneer

Having completed his secondary education in Chios at the age of 19, Stamatis Krimigis leaves to pursue his studies in America. In 1961 he earned his degree in Physics from the University of Minnesota, where he also met Professor James Van Allen. The eminent scientist saw potential in the Greek student after his publication on the diffusion of solar flare protons, later on made known as the “Krimigis Diffusion Model”.

Professor Krimigis remembers working with Van Allen on his post-graduate thesis, acquiring his Doctorate in Space Physics under his supervision. A “particularly exciting” atmosphere, according to Dr. Krimigis, as they also worked on NASA’s Mariner 4 program, the first mission to planet Mars in 1964.

He served on the faculty of the Physics and Astronomy Dept. at Iowa before joining APL in 1968. He headed the Space Physics and Instrumentation Group, became Chief Scientist in 1980, and Head of the Space Department in 1991. He is now Head Emeritus and has resumed his science work full-time.

Dr. Krimigis’ research interests include the earth’s environment, its magnetosphere, the sun, the interplanetary medium, and the magnetospheres of the planets and other astrophysical objects.

He has been Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator on several NASA spacecraft, including the Low Energy Charged Particle (LECP) Experiment on Voyagers 1 and 2, and the Active Magnetospheric Particle Tracer Explores (AMPTE), a collaborative U.S.-German-U.K. program that created the first man-made comet in space on December 27, 1984. He was also a Principal Investigator for the 1997 Cassini Mission to Saturn and Titan and a Co-Investigator on the Galileo Ulysses, ACE and MESSENGER missions.

“It is extraordinary that a spaceship initially designed to travel for four years only, is still operating after 33 entire years, providing us with data on a daily basis”, states the eminent scientist on Voyager, launched in 77, informing us that the following month, Nature Magazine will publish a study on the latest Voyager discovery.

Listening to Professor Krimigis on spaceships, such as the New Horizons, currently directed towards Pluto and bound to reach its destination on July 14th 2015, is a unique experience, along with the construction of space missions assigned to him by NASA, to various planets.

No matter how far, Stamatis Krimigis is travelling, he is fastened to his own star, Greece and especially Chios, his birthplace, where he often returns and is expected by his sister’s family, while he has renovated his grandfather’s home, where he lives with his own family.

Even though he did not participate in this year’s “rocket war” in Chios, he was there for Easter, alongside his nephews, while they were preparing their “ammunition”…

“I departed for Washington on Tuesday morning. And the adventure goes on…” he states.

Last night, Stamatis Krimigis was announced honorary doctor of the International University of Greece, in Thessaloniki. The subject of his lecture was; “Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Greece”.

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