|John C. Zarnecki|
6 November 1949|
Finchley, Middlesex, England
|Occupation||Space science academic and researcher|
John C. Zarnecki (born Finchley, Middlesex, England) is an English space science professor and researcher. Since 2000, he has worked at the Open University, having previously been a professor and researcher at the University of Kent. He has taken part in several high profile space probe missions and is an expert on space debris, space dust and impacts.6 November 1949 in
Born and raised in Finchley, Middlesex, Zarnecki was educated at Highgate School and was interested in space exploration from an early age. In 1961, the school gave its pupils a day off to witness the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin, visiting the tomb of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery nearby. Zarnecki was among those who went.
In the course of his career, Zarnecki has worked on hardware for many space missions. At first, he worked for British Aerospace and was part of the team that developed the Faint Object Camera for the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1981, he moved to the University of Kent in Canterbury and became the project manager for the Dust Impact Detection System on board the Giotto probe that visited Halley's Comet.
In 1988, Zarnecki was involved in plans to provide instrumentation for a proposed asteroid mission called Vesta, but, when this was dropped in favour of the Cassini–Huygens mission to Saturn and its moons, he and his team decided to use their expertise to design the Surface Science Package (SSP) for the Huygens probe. The probe would be released from the main spacecraft (Cassini) and descend to the surface of Saturn's largest moon Titan. The proposal was successful and, in 1990, Zarnecki was appointed as the SSP's Principal Investigator.
The next seven years were spent assembling and testing the instrument. With only 70% of necessary funds available, Zarnecki had to be creative with the resources he was assigned. He managed to persuade a group of scientists in Poland to provide part of the instrumentation for free.
One major setback came during the final stages of testing when, on 14 January 1996, the package was put through its final vibration test and its casing cracked. After some extensive redesign, the package was delivered to the European Space Agency (ESA). On 15 October 1997, Cassini-Huygens was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral.
In 2000, Zarnecki, along with the rest of the SSP team, moved to the Open University in Milton Keynes. There he became involved in the ill-fated Beagle 2 mission to Mars, lost while landing in December 2003.
On 25 December 2004, the Huygens probe separated successfully from Cassini and twenty-two days later, on 14 January 2005, it landed successfully on the surface of Titan. The SSP collected over three and a half hours of data, which, thanks to its efficient encoding, could be stored on a single floppy disk. The BBC Four television documentary Destination Titan, first broadcast in April 2011, focused on Zarnecki and the Huygens mission from the perspective of the mission scientists.
In 2005, for his work on the Huygens probe, Zarnecki won the Sir Arthur Clarke Award for individual achievement.
Between 2007 and 2009, Zarnecki was the Directory of the Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space & Astronomical Research (CEPSAR) at the Open University. He is currently working as the team leader on the ExoMars mission, Europe's first Mars rover mission. He is also co-investigator on the PTOLEMY instrument for the Rosetta mission to comet 46P/Wirtanen. Rosetta has also been re-targeted to visit comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.