Obituary for Reimar Lüst

MPE founding director passes away at the age of 97

March 31, 2020

When the Max Planck Society decided in 1961 to establish an activity in space research, Reimar Lüst was appointed head of this working group. Two years later it became the Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics as part of the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics.

The foundation of the MPE was characterized by the goal to study and understand the Earth's environment and its interaction with the recently discovered solar wind by conducting experiments in space. This task was by no means easy in the post-war years, due to the restrictions imposed by the Allies, but thanks to Lüst's very good relations with Jacques Blamont in France, it led to the first successful rocket experiments in the Sahara. However, the great goal of creating an 'artificial comet' in the solar wind could only be achieved twenty years later under the aegis of Gerhard Haerendel.

Reimar Lüst recognized early on the significant possibilities of space research for astronomy, which were realized at MPE in the next decades after his official retirement as MPE Director. He also actively promoted European cooperation and in 1962 became the first scientific director of the European Space Agency ESRO, the forerunner of ESA.

Also in science policy, Reimar Lüst was one of the most important actors in the post-war reconstruction phase of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was Chairman of the Science Council and, from 1972 to 1984, President of the Max Planck Society. His presidency was marked by many new reforms and the founding but also closure of institutes.

Immediately after his second term as MPG President, Reimar Lüst moved to Paris as Director General of ESA 1984-1990. The highlights of his tenure there were the green light for Ariane V, ESA's involvement in the space station with the European module Columbus, and the GIOTTO probe's flyby of Halley's comet in 1986.

After his time in Paris, Reimar Lüst returned to Germany as President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and as scientific member of the MPI for Meteorology in Hamburg.

In addition to these main tasks, for decades, Reimar Lüst has been an outstanding advocate of the role of basic and cutting-edge research to politicians and the public. He was founding member of the first private research university in Bremen, and until a few years ago, he advised and internationally represented the MPG.

We are proud that Reimar Lüst has always felt himself to be an integral part of MPE during all these years. His visits and annual phone calls at Christmas time to the Managing Director, with the famous question "how is the institute doing", reflected this closeness, as well as the fact that even after many years had passed, he could still remember personal aspects of individual institute members and would inquire about their current situation.

We mourn the loss of MPE’s father, an outstanding scientific leader and a great man. We will always remember him.


Ralf Bender


Paola Caselli


Reinhard Genzel


Gerhard Haerendel


Günther Hasinger

Gregor Morfill


Kirpal Nandra

Klaus Pinkau


Joachim Trümper


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