|"A couple of centuries ago the challenge was to find out about the Earth; today the biggest challenge seems to be to go out, above our heads, and see what is there."|
Elsa Montagnon is not only young, she's also a woman in a man's domain – space exploration. Elsa Montagnon is an engineer and Spacecraft Operations Manager (SOM) at the European Space Agency's European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt.
She has been called the 'comet hunter' because from the mission control room at ESOC her team is remotely steering the ESA spacecraft, Rosetta, over billions of kilometers to reach a comet.
As well as hunting comets, Elsa is also SOM for the Mercury Planetary Orbiter of BepiColombo – ESA's first mission to Mercury. This is one of ESA's most challenging long-term planetary projects, as Mercury's proximity to the sun makes it difficult for a spacecraft to reach and survive in the harsh environment.
"One day it really happens: the spacecraft is on the launch pad,
ready to get started," she says. "Then comes the countdown that you've practised in simulations, but this time it's for real. My colleagues and myself are in the control room, ready to take over control. They ignite the rockets and off it goes, and you know that it will never come back. That's quite an emotional