Greece's Embattled New Space Agency Signs Deal With NASA


Nikos Pappas. (Photo: Eurokinissi/Giannis Panagopoulos)

ATHENS – The Hellenic Space Agency (ELDO, ) set up as the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA was making drastic budget cuts to satisfy creditors, signed a cooperation agreement with NASA on the sidelines of the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs in the United States.

The deal was signed by Hellenic Space Agency (ELDO) CEO Georgios Mantzouris and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, before Greece's Telecommunications and Digital Policy Minister Nikos Pappas and ELDO President Christodoulos Protopappas, the Athens-Macedonian News Agency reported.

The agreement ushers a new “era of exchange” and “potential cooperation” in the area of space research and exploration, the Greek side was quoted by the ANA-MPA as saying, adding that under the agreement, the ELDO will be launching Greece's first exploration mission to the moon via robot in 2022.

“We have before us a significant development that will breathe new life into research but also into the country's international standing,” Pappas was quoted as saying.

Under the deal, Greece will also take part in the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), an international, NASA-led project to create a lunar-orbit space station in the 2020's and there are planned exchanges of information and data for academic and scientific research, as well as the participation of Greek educational institutions in international programs.

ELDO was established in March 2018 as the government was imposing more austerity and health care budget cuts and rolling back benefits for the disabled. The agency said its purpose it shape the country's space strategy, promote Greece in taking part in space programs and taking part in space events. The budget was not given.

In April, 2018, noted Greek-American scientists Stamatios Krimigis took parting shots at ruling Radical Left SYRIZA officials after he quit the agency because of what he called political interference – and as its Managing Director, Constantinos Pilaftsis has also walked away.

Krimigis, a former NASA scientist and head emeritus of the Space Department Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, gave up his post after indicating he was fed up with Pappas trying to use the new agency to benefit the faltering SYRIZA.

His departure has set off a tempest, with the major rival New Democracy calling on Pappas, a former State Minister who worked for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in trying to control private TV station licenses, to quit.

In his resignation letter, Krimigis, accused Pappas of making decisions that effectively annulled the HSA’s entire purpose and made it prone to political subservience instead of creating a meritocracy, a practice at odds with the Greek system of rewarding friends even if they aren’t qualified.

Krimigis said there was “an effort to manipulate HSA toward specific goals,” and also ripped the General Secretary for Telecommunications, Vassilis Manglaras who had accused the scientist of showing up for meetings only twice.

Krimigis, who had called Manglaras a “space czar,” said the secretary had a “selective memory” of events as the row got even worse and set off debates about SYRIZA’s competence to govern.