Wubbo Johannes Ockels (28 March 1946 – 18 May 2014) was a Dutch physicist and an astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA). In 1985 he participated in a flight on the space shuttle Challenger, STS-61-A, making him the first Dutch citizen in space. After his astronaut career, Ockels was professor of Aerospace for Sustainable Engineering and Technology at the Delft University of Technology.
In 1978, he was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as one of three European payload specialists to train for the Spacelab 1 mission. In May 1980, under the terms of an agreement between ESA and NASA, Ockels and Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier were selected to begin basic astronaut training for mission specialist together with the NASA astronaut candidates at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. Ockels successfully completed this training in August 1981. He rejoined the Spacelab 1 crew for training as a back-up payload specialist to operate experiments aboard Spacelab 1. This mission of a reusable, scientific research facility built by the European Space Agency (ESA) took place aboard the Space Shuttle in November 1983. Spacelab 1 was a joint NASA/ESA mission. He was the first Dutch citizen astronaut, not the first Dutch-born astronaut, as he is preceded by the naturalized American Lodewijk van den Berg, who flew on STS-51-B. Having served his role as back-up payload specialist for German astronaut Ulf Merbold, he took his place in Mission Control in Houston as the primary communicator between the astronauts working in Spacelab and the Mission Management Team in Houston.
In 1992, Ockels was appointed part-time professor of Aerospace Engineering (in particular, Aerospace for Sustainable Engineering and Technology) at Delft University of Technology, and promoted to full-time professor in September 2003. In this function, he oversaw the Nuna projects. He also proposed the development of a Superbus, a new method of high speed (250 km/hour) public transportation by road. The public transportation company Connexxion was the first company to invest in the development of this Superbus.
Thanks to his work on the “Laddermill” sustainable energy program, he is considered one of the founders of the promising Airborne Wind Energy. As quoted from his website.
In August 2005, Ockels suffered a severe heart attack which required his hospitalization. He recovered well and was able to resume his work at the Delft University of Technology.
On 29 May 2013 it was announced that Ockels had an aggressive form of kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) with a metastasis in his pleural cavity, and a life expectancy of one to two years. He died from complications of cancer on 18 May 2014.