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Meet an Earth Observation Master


05 Nov 2020

Herbert Kramer
Dr Herbert J. Kramer

Dr Herbert J. Kramer is the author of various books on Earth Observation, with the last edition Observation of the Earth and Its Environment being the world’s only and most complete reference about satellite missions and sensors. It covers Earth observation on a global scale, defining hundreds of spaceborne missions and over 2000 spaceborne sensors.

He created and has been writing on ESA’s eoPortal for 16 years now, and is considered the most valuable reference point for scientists and remote sensing experts.

A senior staff remote sensing scientist, with the Aerospace Corporation, based in the United States, said, “Of all the books in my office, this is the one that I refer to most frequently .... This book is a tour de force, (...) an indispensable reference book that belongs on the bookshelf of every serious practitioner of remote sensing science and technology, (...) it is a unique resource and has my very highest recommendation.”

Born in Westphalia, Germany in 1939, Herbert J. Kramer emigrated to the USA in April 1962, after receiving his Engineering Degree at the Staatliche Ingenieurschule für Maschinenwesen in Siegen. In 1964, he continued his education receiving a MME (Master of Mechanical Engineering) degree at Villanova University in 1966, and a PhD in 1971 from the Catholic University of America, Washington DC, with the support of a NSF (National Science Foundation) fellowship.

After a year as Assistant Professor at Villanova University (covering Heat Transfer, Thermodynamics, and Applied Mathematics), he returned to Germany in 1972 and worked at DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, the German Aerospace Center), in Oberpfaffenhofen, until his retirement in 2002.

ESA: How did your first projects come about?


The interesting and growing field of Earth observation brought about new insights into our Earth system. In 1989, I began collecting EO project descriptions that resulted in the first edition of my book in 1992, with Springer Verlag. At the time, there was hardly any published text book available covering the various EO missions on a global scale, neither in operation nor in development. EO covers the wide field of remote sensing, it encompasses the study of the “Earth system” (in particular its outer surface) and also Earth’s environment, including the study of interactions with the outside. Hence, I started gathering this documentation to provide that service to the people.

Prior to each edition of the book (1992, 1994, 1996 and 2002), I visited NASA and NOAA centers and companies in the USA from coast to coast, as well as a number of institutions and companies in Moscow to collect information of their EO projects.

My work at DLR was involved in EO projects dealing with foreign institutions, resulting in visits to JAXA (Japan), INPE (Brazil), CNES (France), ISRO (India), CCRS (Canada Center for Remote Sensing) in Canada, and to the ESA centres ESTEC, ESOC and ESRIN. In 1979/80, DLR sent  me (with family) for 15 months to NASA/JPL in Pasadena, CA to work on a common project with NASA. This was indeed a very valuable experience in my professional life.

After my retirement from DLR/GSOC in 2002, I received a phone call from the Head/Ground Segment Department at ESA/ESRIN in the fall of 2003, asking if I was willing to put the content of the book’s 4th edition onto the new eoPortal of ESA/ESRIN. This was primarily due to changing technology, which ESA embraced choosing to provide this information in an online format.

ESA: How did this project come to life?

Dr Kramer:

The first project files were sent to the eoPortal in January 2004. Many new missions were added to those in the 4th edition. Up to now, it required a lot of engagement to present in particular fairly consistent update information (whenever available) for the multitude of projects. It is important to the EO user community to find this information on the eoPortal as well as elsewhere.

Fortunately, ESA engaged a very competent EO Web Team at Airbus, in the UK, to load the frequent daily project files (either new projects or update files) onto the eoPortal and to manage the ever growing requirements for a functional and secure eoPortal.

ESA: Tell us more about the eoPortal

Dr Kramer:

Throughout my documentation period of 30 years, I tried to cover Earth Observation on a global scale. Lately, the field is getting ever more crowded with all the CubeSats and nanosatellites that are being developed by university teams; but the space agencies and industry are also in the game of developing nanosatellites, finding them very suitable for technology demonstrations, and nowadays even in support of real mission services.

The best sources for my documentation work on the eoPortal were the proceedings of space conferences on a global scale. However, the availability of the proceedings have dried up over the last years considerably, in particular in the Covid-19 year of 2020.  

In the last couple of years, other topics besides EO were covered, including the phases of ISS build-up, research on the ISS, and fields such as climate change as well as various space missions.

ESA: Any last thoughts on your overall experience?

Dr Kramer:

Although being confronted with continuous long workdays in my retirement, I am lucky that I have been involved in very exciting work due to my own personal interest in the topic of Earth Observation and the introduction of new technologies. Fortunately, my wife and my family (three maried daughters and 8 grandchildren) supported my work, tolerating also long absences from family life.