Professor Luboš Perek left us on 17 September 2020

It is so difficult to accept that professor Luboš Perek left us at the age of 101 – we were so accustomed to having his sharp comments and a friendly smile around us! After Vladimír Kopal, another prominent Czech expert in space and space law is leaving our rows.

Luboš Perek was born in June 1919 in Prague, Czechoslovakia. After having attended a classical gymnasium in Prague, three generations of his ancestors working as lawyers predestined his further study and law career. However, his fascination for astronomy prevailed over his family tradition. He enrolled in the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the Charles University in Prague, and he graduated soon after the World War II. In 1946, Perek accepted the offer to work as assistant professor at the Masaryk University in Brno. In this historical city of South Moravia, he worked on the installation of a telescope Cassegrain inspired by one of the telescopes in Leiden. In 1956, he defended his PhD in Astronomy at the Charles University in Prague.

Since 1956, he was active at the Astronomical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Prague. Following his visiting professorship in Northwestern University, Illinois, he was nominated director of this Institute in 1968, a position in which he served until 1975. Widely known is his project to construct a powerful telescope at the Observatory in Ondřejov close to Prague. This telescope was inaugurated in August 1967, at the occasion of the XIII. General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and named “Perek’s telescope” in 2012. Also, among his enormous successes belongs the exposition of a sample of the mineral from the Moon returned by the Apollo mission in the Observatory in 1970, the deepest cold war period. If you would have met him at “his” prestigious Astronomical Institute, you would have been received by an elegant, extremely knowledgeable person; he would have taken his time, blended with his expertise, and left behind a feeling of an unreachable horizon of knowledge.

In 1975, he became Director of the Outer Space Affairs Division of the United Nations in New York, a position which he occupied until 1980. His attention was focused on the questions of the regime of the geostationary orbit and remote sensing of the Earth from outer space. He was also the first to bring the problem of space debris to the UN. In 1979, after a meeting with Don Kessler, he wrote a notice on this, raising the problem.

During his long and fascinating professional life, he occupied several prominent international and national positions. In 1965, he was elected Corresponding Member of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. Between 1967 and 1970, he was general secretary of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), and practically at the same time, he served as vice president of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). In 1980, he was elected president of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF). After the fall of the communist regime, the Czech Astronomy Society elected him as its president in 1989.

He returned back to his familial legal roots in 1996-2006 when he was elected member of the Board of the Directors of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL). His interest for the area of law was influenced by the vision that without any binding rules, outer space would become overcrowded and space activities non-manageable. He was tireless in pushing the space management question in UNCOPUOS, explaining the physics of the orbits, raising the urgency to register abandoned objects internationally, and arguing for the adoption of a transparent regime to make space travel safer and astronomy better protected.

He was a globally recognized author: His early central work is the Catalogue of Galactic Planetary Nebulae, published together with his disciple Luboš Kohoutek in 1967. During his career, he wrote more than forty papers on stellar dynamics and planetary nebulae and eighty contributions on the geostationary orbit, but also on the definition of outer space, space debris, space traffic management, and the protection of the space environment.

His national and international activities were acknowledged many times. For example, in 2002, he was accorded the Prix Jules Janssen, the highest award of the Societé astronomique de France. For his work for the International Institute of Space Law and the society, Luboš received the IISL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. In 2012, the asteroid 2900 was named after him.

In his high age, he was a tireless propagator of the knowledge of outer space to a broad public audience. He took part in countless broadcasting and TV programs patiently explaining the danger caused by the exponential growth of space debris not only to astronomy but to all other space activities. He was an excellent host. Even as a widower, he was not scared to invite friends and colleagues to his Prague apartment, to give his experienced opinion and to supply them with great food and an admirable selection of wines.

Unfortunately, we are losing one of the grand seigneurs and pioneers of space and space regulation, a globally recognized specialist, tireless organizer, and great friend. We can be proud and happy that we shared a part of our lives with him.

Mahulena Hofmann
Prague/ Luxembourg.