The RAS offers its condolences to the family and friends of Professor Peter Willmore, who died last week in Birmingham. He was a prominent space scientist in the early years of the discipline and led a number of international space activities in collaboration with the US, Russia and India.
Peter was born in London in 1930 and obtained his BSc (1951) and then PhD (1954) at University College London (UCL). He worked at UKAEA Harwell for two years before being lured back to UCL by Sir Harrie Massey and Robert (later Sir Robert) Boyd to initiate a UK space programme to explore the Earth’s upper atmosphere. As the group at UCL expanded with the success of Ariel 1, the UK’s first scientific satellite in which Peter played a scientific role, Robert and Peter oversaw the purchase of Holmbury House and the subsequent setting up of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in 1965.
During a sabbatical break spent in Washington and Ahmedabad (India) Peter turned his interests to the newly emerging field of X-ray astronomy, becoming the project scientist for Ariel V, a hugely successful mission exploring the X-ray sky, and in particular the variability of X-ray sources whose nature was slowly being uncovered. In 1972 Peter Willmore moved to Birmingham, where, in addition to utilising the data from Ariel V and providing an X-ray instrument for Ariel VI, he and the Birmingham group built the TTM experiment mounted on the Russian Soyuz platform and collaborated with other UK groups in building the X-ray detection system for XMM-Newton.
Peter made significant contributions to the running of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) over many decades, expressing his belief in the benefits of international cooperation. He was awarded the Tsiolkovsky medal by the USSR, the COSPAR Vikram Sabhai and Distinguished Service Medals and served as Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Former RAS President Prof. Mike Cruise said, “Peter had an intuitive and penetrating grasp of physics, a broad sense of political wisdom and a warm and friendly personality. He made students and junior staff feel welcome both professionally and socially, and will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”
Dr Morgan Hollis
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 700
Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 699
Notes for editors
The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognises outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.