A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Just a few kilometres northwest of Leiden lies one of the most advanced research centres in Europe: ESTEC.
The European Space Technology and Research Centre is located in the coastal city of Noordwijk, called the “floral seaside resort of Europe” because of its famed tulip fields. ESTEC is a high-tech compound were hundreds of scientists from all over Europe do testing and research on behalf of the European Space Agency.
As a student writing a master’s thesis on the European Space Policy, I could not miss the opportunity to visit this centre. This opportunity presented itself when I met my new flatmate, Andy, who is currently working at ESTEC in the field of space exploration. He invited me to take a tour of the centre and meet his colleagues, in the hope that they could provide me with insightful information for my thesis.
ESTEC can be easily reached from Leiden Centraal. The bus 30 took me to the centre in around 25 minutes.
Once arrived I checked-in at the reception, where I was provided with a visitor’s badge. Due to the cutting-edge technologies developed at the site, many facilities are heavily guarded and only accessible to a few employees.
After a nice lunch at the canteen, where I met an engineer from my hometown in Italy, Andy brought me to the shop; I spent quite some time there to buy gadgets for my family. The most peculiar was a “freeze-dried ready to eat space food”, the same that astronauts eat in space; while expensive, I was happy that the money was destined to help the agency in some way or another.
During the tour my attention was drawn by the dozens of replicas of satellites, rockets and space modules, all captured by my camera. I thought about the great minds behind those projects and the scientists’ contentment when those high-tech jewels made it successfully to space to carry out their tasks. Some of those great minds were around me in that moment, in the dozens of buildings and offices making up ESTEC.
My attention was also caught by the plurality of languages spoken there. With 22 member states, ESA gives scientists and engineers the opportunity to confront with their foreign peers, exchange ideas and cooperate on huge projects that could hardly be developed by one country alone.
The centre also hosts sport facilities (golf and football fields, a swimming pool etc.) where employees can spend their free time for cheap fees. The trips from one building to another are facilitated by self-driving vehicles: not surprising for such a high-tech centre!
Ultimately, Andy escorted me to his building to so that I could see interesting space stuff from a closer look…but I will talk about it in part 2!