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Our Place in the Universe

Plenary / Panel
german language

Plenary session in cooperation with the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers

The question if extraterrestrial life exists is as old as mankind itself. New technologies that are being applied in astrophysics can answer some of these questions today. Human spaceflight will also play an important role to explain various phenomena.


Director, Carl Sagan Institute; Associated Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY Abstract
A decade of exoplanet search has led to surprising discoveries, from hot giant planets orbiting their star within a few days, to planets orbiting two Suns, extremely hot worlds with potentially permanent lava on their surfaces due to the star's proximity all the way to the first potential rocky worlds in the Habitable Zone of their stars.

Observation techniques have now reached the sensitivity to explore the chemical composition of the atmospheres as well as physical structure of some detected planets.

Nearly a thousand planets have already been detected around other Suns. The spectral fingerprint of light of planets gives us the key to search explore them over light years away and to find the first habitable new worlds in the sky.
Director of ESA's Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Operations, German ESA-Astronaut, European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt Abstract
ESA’s human spaceflight programme is currently focusing on the exploitation of ISS. Significant technological and research achievements have been realised within this programme at the level of the ISS partnerships and within Europe. Important decisions regarding ISS have been taken at the last ESA Meeting at Ministerial level held in November 2012 paving the way for European participation in ISS Exploitation up to 2020. The approval of the European development of the Service Module for the NASA Crew Exploration Vehicle (MPCV), within the framework of an ISS barter agreement, creates for the first time a role for Europe in the critical path of the development of a US human rated transportation system. This decision does not only contribute to stabilising the ESA ISS Exploitation Programme up to 2020, but also opens up new perspectives for ESA’s role in human missions targeting destinations beyond LEO.
The ESA Long Term Plan outlines two programmatic lines for human spaceflight post 2020:
-Continuation of the exploitation of user-driven LEO infrastructures beyond 2020 at sustainable cost levels;
-Participation in international human mission scenarios beyond LEO leveraging on and further evolving European capabilities with the intent to occupy technological niches in an international undertaking.
Important preparatory work is underway to define specific implementation options for both of the programmatic lines identified above with the goal to propose first concrete steps at the two upcoming ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial level planned for 2014 and 2015/16. Preparatory activities include
-Analysis of user requirements for LEO exploitation post ISS;
-Engagement in inter-agency deliberations for advancing the planning of international human mission scenarios post 2020;
-Utilisation of ISS in preparation of human missions beyond LEO;
-Robotic exploration of the Moon.
International cooperation has always been the basis and the stabilising factor for the European human spaceflight programme. The future role of Europe in human spaceflight will be strongly shaped by international cooperation and the strategic partnerships which ESA will establish with its international Partners. The cooperation with NASA on the MPCV may open up other opportunities in the area of space transportation. The established partnership with Roscosmos for robotic exploration of Mars opens additional opportunities for cooperation in the field of lunar exploration. Finally, the focus of the Chinese space programme on future exploitation of LEO may open up opportunities for cooperation in this field.
The presentation will introduce potential European long-term roles in human spaceflight embedded in the international mission scenario for human spaceflight post 2020, discuss related cooperation scenarios and identify near-to-medium term steps towards realising envisaged roles.
Head, Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center, Berlin Abstract
Selbst wenn man nicht dem Gedanken nachhängt, für die Menschheit einen Siedlungsplatz außerhalb unserer Erde finden bzw. die Energieprobleme durch Abbau von He3 auf dem Mond lösen zu wollen, macht es Sinn, das Sonnensystem als unsere weitere Heimat zu verstehen und zu erkunden. Da ist zunächst die reine Neugier, herauszufinden, was dort draußen zu entdecken ist. Welche Arten von Planeten gibt es überhaupt? Ist unsere Erde ein typischer Gesteinsplanet? Wie groß ist die Chance in unserem Sonnensystem außerhalb der Erde Leben zu finden? Heutiges, oder vergangenes Leben. Ist unser Sonnensystem typisch? Danach können wir versuchen herauszufinden, was sich über unseren Heimatplaneten von anderen Planeten lernen lässt. Ein Phänomen, das uns Erdlinge umtreibt, ist der Treibhauseffekt. Treibhauseffekte, auch solche, die erhebliche Umweltveränderungen verursacht haben, findet man vielfältig auf anderen Planeten. Und durch Vergleiche kann man Erkenntnis gewinnen. Welchen Einfluss hat Leben auf die Entwicklung eines Planeten? Wie sähe eine abiotische Erde aus. Wir erkunden unser Sonnensystem mit Hilfe von Hightech Geräten wobei die knappsten Ressourcen Masse und Energie sind. Die Raumfahrt und die mit ihr verbundene Forschung hat sich als Treiber für technologische Entwicklungen erwiesen.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Falling Walls Foundation gGmbH, Berlin Chair


Director, Carl Sagan Institute; Associated Professor of Astronomy, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

2000-2001 Research Fellow, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
2001-2002 Young Engineer Fellowship, ESA - European Space Agency, Netherlands
2003-2004 Consultant to ESA - Science Department via AURORA Technology, Netherlands
2005-2009 Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
2008-2013 Lecturer, Astronomy Department, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
2009-2010 Research Associate, Astronomy Department, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
2010-2014 Research Associate, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
2010-2014 Lecturer, Astronomy Department, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg
 Since 2014 Associate Professor, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
 Since 2014 Founding Director, Carl Sagan Institute: Pale Blue Dot and Beyond, Ithaca, NY
2010-2014 Research Group Leader, Max Planck Institute, Heidelberg

Dr.-Ing. e.h. Thomas REITER

Director of ESA's Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Operations, German ESA-Astronaut, European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt

 Thomas Reiter holds a Master s degree in Aerospace Technology and a honorary doctorate from the German Armed Forces University in Neubiberg/Munich. He graduated from Goethe-High School in Neu-Isenburg in 1977, from the German Armed Forces University in 1982 and from the Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) in Boscombe Down, England, in 1992.
 After completion of military jet training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Thomas Reiter flew the Alpha-Jet in a fighter-bomber squadron based in Oldenburg, Germany. He was involved in the development of computerized mission planning systems and became a flight-operations officer and deputy squadron commander. After completing the test-pilot training Class 2 at the German flight test center in Manching during 1990, Reiter was involved in several flight test projects and conversion training on the Tornado the following year. Reiter attended the Class 1 test pilot training at ETPS, Boscombe Down, in 1992. His flight experience includes more than 2300 hours in military combat jet aircraft of more than 15 types.
 Thomas Reiter was also involved in ESA studies of a manned space vehicle (Hermes) and development of equipment for the Columbus module, one of Europe s main contributions to the International Space Station.
 In 1992, he was selected to join ESA s European Astronaut Corps, based at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. After completing basic training, Reiter was selected for the Euromir 95 mission and started training at TsPK (Cosmonauts Training Centre) in Star City near Moscow in August 1993, preparing for onboard-engineer tasks, extra-vehicular activities and operations of the Soyuz transportation system. The Euromir 95 experiment training was organized and mainly carried out at EAC.
 In March 1995, he was assigned as on-board engineer for the Euromir 95 mission, a record-breaking 179 days on ESA's Euromir 95 mission (3 September 1995 until 29 February 1996) with two spacewalks (EVAs).
 Between October 1996 and July 1997, Reiter underwent training on Soyuz-TM spacecraft operations for de-docking, atmospheric re-entry and landing. He was awarded the Russian  Soyuz Return Commander certificate, which qualifies him to command a three-person Soyuz capsule during its return from space.
 Furthermore, he performed collateral duties in the ERA-team of ESA, which is developing the European Robotic Arm and its ground based test- and mission control equipment.
 From September 1997 to March 1999, Reiter was detached to the German Air Force as Operational Group Commander of a Tornado fighterbomber wing. After his return to ESA he gave support to the ATV team and the ERA programme. He continued training at the Russian Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City from June 1999 until March 2000 for the Russian Segments of the International Space Station.
 On 1 April 1999 he resumed his activities at the European Astronaut Centre, Cologne, Germany.

Dr. Tilman SPOHN

Head, Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center, Berlin

 Tilman Spohn studied geophysics at the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt and got his diploma in 1975. Three years later he earned his Ph.D. and in 1984 his habilitation.
 Since this time he has been professor at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität in Münster and since 2004 he is simultaneously the director of the Institute for Planet Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin-Adlershof. From 2007 onwards he has been engaged in the Helmholtz alliance »Development of Planets and Life« as its scientific coordinator.

Dr. Jürgen MLYNEK

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Falling Walls Foundation gGmbH, Berlin

1970-1976 Studium der Physik, Technische Universität Hannover; Ecole Polytechnique, Paris
1976-1981 Hauptdiplom Physik, Wissenschaftlicher Assistent, Institut für Angewandte Physik, Universität Hannover
1979 Promotion, Dr. rer. nat., Universität Hannover
1982 Post-Doktorand, IBM Research Laboratory, San Jose (USA)
1984 Habilitation, Universität Hannover
1983-1985 Hochschulassistent (C1), Universität Hannover
1985-1986 Heisenberg-Stipendiat der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft
1986-1990 Assistenzprofessor, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), Zürich
1990-2000 Ordentlicher Professor (C4), Experimentalphysik, Universität Konstanz
1996-2001 Vizepräsident, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
2000-2005 Präsident, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
2005-2015 Präsident, Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft Deutscher Forschungszentren
seit 2015 Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Falling Walls Foundation gGmbH, Berlin

Technology Forum

show timetable


10:00 - 12:30Technology Brunch hosted by Standortagentur TirolPartner
13:00 - 13:10Opening of the Alpbach Technology Forum 2013Plenary
13:10 - 13:45Innovation and PolicyPlenary
13:45 - 15:15Future Innovation - International PerspectivesPlenary
15:40 - 16:40Graphene - A Great Hope of Future Technologies?Plenary
16:40 - 18:00From Research to Economic SuccessPlenary
20:00 - 21:45Our Place in the UniversePlenary
21:45 - 00:00Career Lounge hosted by the Organisers and Siemens AG ÖsterreichSocial
21:45 - 00:00Evening Reception hosted by Forschung AustriaSocial


08:30 - 15:00Working Group 05: The Potential of the Alps: Focus Sustainable Use of ResourcesBreakout
09:00 - 18:00Junior Alpbach - Science and Technology for Young PeopleBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Special Event: RTI Internationalization in Austria - Strategic RecommendationsBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 01: The Value Chains of the FutureBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 02: To Develop the Future - Tomorrow's Innovation as Exemplified by International Leading EnterprisesBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 03: Smart City - Pathways to Future Urban MobilityBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 04: "Frontrunner", a New Approach in RTI PolicyBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 06: The Potential of ICT Tools in Open Innovation ProcessesBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 07: Web attack! The Fight against Hackers and Data LossBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 08: Industry 4.0 - Impact on the Future of Working LivesBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 09: Green Tech: Visions and Business of eco-mobilityBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 10: Identity 2.0: Digital ManBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 11: Intellectual Property Management - Conditions for Prosperity and SuccessBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Working Group 12: Secure Society = Secured Future = Security ResearchBreakout
09:00 - 15:00Ö1 Children's University Alpbach - Science and Technology for KidsBreakout
16:00 - 17:30i-Learning - The Future of Learning in the Digital WorldPlenary
17:45 - 20:00Challenges for Biomedical ResearchPlenary
20:00 - 22:00Open Dialogue - Smart Mobility for Smart CitiesPartner


09:30 - 10:15Planning Innovation: At the CrossroadsPlenary
10:15 - 12:00Cybercrime and CybersecurityPlenary
12:15 - 13:15The Wonderful World of Quantum MechanicsPlenary
13:15 - 13:30Closing Statement of the Alpbach Technology ForumPlenary
13:30 - 14:00Snack Reception hosted by the OrganisersSocial