Interview with Dr. Rustam B. Rustamov, independent expert on space science and technology, former Acting Director General, Azerbaijan National Aerospace Agency, Baku, Azerbaijan
1) Please tell us about your career, including the years leading up to your present work.
I initially became interested in space after one of the early astronaut missions in space in 1961. It was a time for any young boy to dream of flying to space. I didn’t have ambitions of becoming an astronaut, but I did pursue the well regarded paths of studying space and of being a scientist to take part in space instrumentation developments.
I completed my education in a Soviet-style school during the Soviet period in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. I spent two years as an intern at one of the Soviet Union’s most famous research institutes, called the Physical-Technical Institute of the USSR, in St. Petersburg. I completed my PhD in Physics and Mathematics at the same institution.
Presently I work at the Institute of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan as a scientist. At the same time I provide scientific expert services in the international community.
2) What can you tell us about Azerbaijan’s role in space science?
I am not able to fully describe what is going on in Azerbaijan in space technology use and application. Azerbaijan has just launched its own satellite for communication purposes last year. As far as I am aware from mass media, Azerbaijan has ambitions to develop and launch a low orbit satellite for Earth monitoring. So, Azerbaijan is a part of the world space community.
3) What has it meant for you, being an Azerbaijani scientist since Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991?
I was very happy when Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But this feeling has come at a cost. Honestly, during this collapse we have lost about20% of territory of the country, including Nagorno-Karabakh and five districts of Azerbaijan out of Karabakh. In addition, Azerbaijanis have been forcefully displaced from their motherland as a result of actions conducted by the neighboring country.
Still, being a citizen of an independent country gives a sense that cannot be explained by using any language ability! In particular, the independence of my country opened an opportunity for me to reach a high level in the career ladder, to become an acting director general of the National Aerospace Agency of Azerbaijan.
I have actively joined in the efforts to integrate Azerbaijan into the international community, mainly with Western countries. I long have felt that Western partnership and collaboration were key to changing people’s minds from communist-style thinking and mentality. It is a way to be a part of the world community. This position and approach hold a vital significance for me.
In the late 1990s, thanks to the situation in the country, it became possible for me to participate for a year in a UN project implemented within the framework of the European Space Agency entity at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Nordwijk, the Netherlands.
4) What are some elements of Azerbaijani culture that you believe to be especially supportive of a career like yours?
Definitely flexibility, a peaceful attitude, diligence, reliability, and constant readiness to lend assistance to others when needed. The nature of the country that is so rich with natural resources is one more positive influence in a career such as mine.
5) What are your thoughts about engaging young people in STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) and about encouraging them to pursue STEM careers?
It is really hard to achieve the expected numbers in high technology, particularly in the areas of space science and technology. There are obstacles for attracting people, especially for the young generation to be a part of such technology. It is especially difficult in developing countries. There are huge social, educational and other factors limiting people’s interest in space science and technology.
Fortunately there are always a few heroes who chose this area as their career path and who can serve as inspirational models. I do not offer a special “formula” for those who might pursue STEM. High technology as well as space technology as a career is not suited for maintaining your social needs. It is only for your soul. You have to love it as you love your life, your parents, your land, and everything around you!
In my view, one has to experience everything in order to understand deeply what it means from an individual perspective. Heroes may inspire, but this is the only way for success, nothing more! This is my suggestion!
6) What do you think can be done to encourage more women to enter the field of space?
Excellent question! All of my students are ladies. They are all very hard-working. One of them has already been internationally recognized with a Ph.D. Another young woman recently has completed her Master of Science degree and works for a famous international company in Baku. Others have been engaged in space technology applications as Ph.D. interns or are entering the gates of space technology with ambitions for future achievements. I am proud of my students!
7) What have been some of your proudest moments?
My proudest moments are all days I have been married, and especially the moment my daughter was born. When it comes to work, a few days ago I submitted a paper to an internationally recognized scientific journal. The topic of the paper was the use of the whole territory of Azerbaijan as a test site in satellite images classification. Integrating space imagery and field information is vital to data processing designed to identify land features on
Earth. Sometimes, when access to the study areas is limited, an indirect way using space imagery data processing is employed to create artificial test sites. Obviously, such artificial test sites cannot cover the whole land of the investigated area. It is a bad example of space image processing that impacts negatively on the accuracy of the classification.
I suggested using the whole territory of Azerbaijan as the test site area based on the country’s natural features and on main variations of land cover/land use options. My reasoning focused on the fact that Azerbaijan has nine out of the world’s existing eleven climate zones. I have already received an answer from the journal editorial board. That answer included the words, “You are a great thoughtful author!” It is really one more proud moment in my life.
8) What does the future hold for the space industry?
The world space industry is, in my opinion, in the right place. The main philosophy of space technology is to destroy existing borders, not to have limited imagination or a narrow vision. Space instruments are not able to reflect differences between people.
We human beings with our God-given brains are artificially creating borders between us, instigating huge problems and making our lives worse. Space imagery from a satellite cannot fix any borders between countries.
Such big challenges demand a worldwide problem-solving approach that is geared to common human interests. So the modern calling, as I see it, is to be a part of global processes. In fact, I am confident that countries must work together to use human achievements and challenges for our own home. The countries must collaborate to ensure Earth’s safety and security.
For the next generation, I would like to share my slogan, as follows:
Let each of us use our individual talents as citizens of the world!
Interview conducted by Mr. Kamran Mammadov, Cultural Ambassador, Karabakh Foundation. Mr. Mammadov is a former intern of Dr. Rustamov and is a co-author of an article based on conference proceedings, “Space Technology Applications–Cost Effectiveness,” The Ninth International Conference on Technical and Physical Problems of Power Engineering, Istanbul, Turkey, September 9-11, 2013, by A.M. Hashimov, S.N. Hasanova, S.R. Rustamova, K.T. Mammadov, R.B. Rustamov, pp. 430-432. Mr. Mammadov received a B.A. in business administration from Lindenwood University in Missouri in 2013.
Less than a week ago I landed back at “home” in the United States from my whirlwind two week trip to The Land of Fire– Azerbaijan. I was selected along with nine other American students as a winner of a national essay contest sponsored by the Azerbaijan Ministry of Youth and Sport and received a twelve day, all expenses paid trip to Azerbaijan. I would like to share my wonderful good fortune and help those who have not yet visited the incredible country to understand life there little bit better, but as there are already a few posts on the subject, I will refer you to “Impressions of an American High School student in Baku” by Matthew Miller and “An Azerbaijani American in Baku” by Farzin Farzad for an overview on the subject. Instead, in this short series I will share with you a few stories from my trip that I think offer some insight into the untamed mystery and boundless intrigue that I experienced over the past two weeks in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan- Land of Fire, right? The epithet is frequently used in tourism ad campaigns and YouTube videos, but many people are unfamiliar with its roots. The name Azerbaijan is thought to be derived from ancient Persian meaning guardian/protector of fire. Fire has long held a central place in Azerbaijan’s culture due to the naturally occurring flames in some areas caused by powerful underground gas vents. The ancient people of Greater Iran followed the Zoroastrian faith and worshipped the natural fires of Azerbaijan going back as far as the first millennium BC. Zoroastrianism is a fascinating practice, and Azerbaijan is often quickly associated with it in light conversation, but I really did not know much about the religion and its ties to the country until I visited Ateshgah Fire Temple in Baku. The temple itself has been mostly rebuilt as a replica of the original, a slightly disappointing trend I saw in a large number of exhibits in the country, but was still an imposing structure. It had lots of open spaces, arches, and walls like fortifications. Mannequins of ancient fire worshipping pilgrims (unsettling, to be honest) were set up in some of the rooms built into the temple’s walls. Manmade gas-lit fires were also laid out where natural fires once burned in order to give visitors a picture of the temple when it was active.
What really struck me about the temple was that it was abandoned so recently, in 1883, after an earthquake snuffed the natural fires which the Zoroastrians took as a sign that their god’s favor had turned against the spot. While America was fighting its Civil War, fire was being worshipped as a divine revelation on the oh-so-remote Absheron Peninsula. The word “ancient” always seems to be used in discussions of Zoroastrianism in Azerbaijan, but in fact the traditions there died out not so long ago. Another interesting fact I learned is that Zoroastrians were vegetarians! Instead of sacrificing animals they sacrificed fruits, with the pomegranate being the most holy as its deep red and spiked crown are reminiscent of flame.
A few of us took the opportunity to create a little Nowruz celebration. Nowruz is an extremely popular holiday in Azerbaijan that is derived from Zoroastrian traditions. The holiday celebrates the coming of spring and traditionally, as a recognition of Nowruz’ fire-worshipping past, every Tuesday for four weeks prior to the holiday children jump over small bonfires and candles are lit. So we picked the biggest bonfire, blazing in the center of the temple, joined hands, and, channeling through us the centuries of tradition and faith in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Baku, and this very temple, leaped over the flames.