European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, Netherlands, or as the ESA people like to call it simply, ESTEC, is a very special place. I’ve been there a few times for professional reasons, and I’ve enjoyed an Open Door Day event a few years ago, but the this year’s event on 6th of October, 2019, was special for me as a father. Not only because it was the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing (the theme of 2019 Open Day was “ESA to the Moon”), but also because it was the first time I took my 8-year-old son to ESTEC to show him around, and introduce him to ex-colleagues. We had been to the nearby Space Expo before, but of course without special permission or a public day, it wasn’t possible to visit the main ESTEC site.

We went there one day before the event, because I wanted my son to enjoy the beautiful and serene Noordwijk beach and coastline, one of my favorite places in the Netherlands. Because ESTEC is only a few kilometers away from the coast, we stayed there and before setting on our way we explored the area a little. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t rainy, and we even enjoyed a little Sun:

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Walking around the Noordwijk, we already started to get into the “space mood”, seeing many space-related information even on the beach. My son was happy to inform me about what he learned about the Moon landing and Neil Armstrong, and surprised me when he started to talk about the former USA president Nixon! 🙂

On Sunday morning, we started on our way only to find out how crowded it was. Apparently, all that cold weather, rain, and wind simply couldn’t stop curious and enthusiastic people coming from all over the world to see the most recent advances developed in ESA.

Once we were inside the ESTEC campus, I started to explain a few things to my son, and then told him that, one of my ex-colleagues from Space Applications Services, Doğu Çetin, who is now working at ESA, was ready to explain a few things about Software for Space. When we came to his area in the main ESTEC building, my friend Doğu greeted us warmly and immediately started to explain about the complex space software activities in ESA. My son was surprised to hear an ESA engineer speak Turkish, because even though I’ve informed him beforehand, my son was probably expecting to hear the explanations in Dutch or English. To his amazement, he listened to some details and finer points of embedded software development for space missions. When we decided that he was already overwhelmed, we thanked Doğu for his patience and left him with the challenge of explaining similar things to the remaining 10.000 visitors (did I mention ESTEC is huge? 😉

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After that, I told my son that we were supposed to meet another ex-colleague I shared with Doğu from the same former company, but this time he’d meet a native Dutch speaker from Belgium. While we were enjoying some snacks and drinks at the cafeteria, my friend Erwin arrived, together with his family. I already told my son that I’ve spent a lot of time with Erwin discussing the finer points of Linux, programming, system administration, and the optimal command line configuration for various shells and Emacs, and even if my son didn’t care for Emacs much at the moment (something I need to start working on immediately, as part of proper nerd parenting), he was curious to meet another friend of mine. We had a short chat, and my son and Erwin’s son spent a few minutes in front of the posters of space missions and satellites.

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It’s been a great and informative weekend. As my son grows up, I’m looking forward to sharing more technology and science travels with him. One of the advantages of spending science & technology themed travels together is the fact that you can see things from the perspective of a beginner: thanks to the questions my 8-year-old son ask, I can re-evaluate how I understand and explain a lot of concepts, and I find this a valuable, enriching experience, as well as training for my 2-year-old, who’ll probably start asking difficult questions about Life, the Universe and Everything.

Finally, I’d like to thank to the super-hard-working ESA and ESTEC crew who volunteered for such a special and unbelievably busy day, and all the people and organizations who made it happen. I can’t imagine the patience of my friend Doğu Çetin, because no matter how much of an expert you are, having dedicated decades to space and software technologies, it takes a lot of hard work and talent to shape your message to be at the suitable level for the public in general, and especially children and teenagers. Hope to see you on the next ESA Open Day, maybe with more children! 😉