17 Mar 2010

Space scientist Sir Ian Axford dies

2:46 pm on 17 March 2010

New Zealander Sir Ian Axford, honoured for his work on space exploration, has died, aged 77.

Sir Ian worked on many American and European space probes, such as Voyager and Giotto, designing robot craft and calculating orbits.

He was an expert on comets and cosmic rays, and was convinced that life exists elsewhere in the universe - which he said was the normal view in astrophysics.

Born in Dannevirke, Sir Ian was educated at Napier Boys High, and the Universities of Canterbury, Manchester and Cambridge, where he took his PhD in 1960.

He worked in defence research in Britain, Canada and New Zealand before spending 11years in the United States, first at Cornell University as professor of astronomy and then at the University of California at San Diego where he was professor of physics and applied physics.

In 1974, he moved to the Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy in Germany,and held the post of a director there for more than 20 years, including three years in the early 1980s when he was also vice-chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington.

He received numerous honours from the United States, the Soviet Union and elsewhere, and was president of several international bodies including the European Geophysical Society.

He was named New Zealander of the Year in 1995, chaired the government's Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Sir Ian had retired to Napier.