In memoriam Michel Lefebvre

Our colleague Michel Lefebvre, a member of the Air and Space Academy since 1985, who was highly active in Section 1 for a long time, passed away on 21 July 2019 at the age of 85. Michel Lefebvre was an outstanding personality who marked generations of young researchers who passed through his team, including Anne-Marie Mainguy, our president, and former president Gérard Brachet.

A master mariner, Michel Lefebvre spent 10 years in the Merchant Navy before being appointed to the Observatoire de Paris and then to the recently created French space agency CNES in 1963.

Michel Lefebvre was one of the pioneers of satellite geodesy in France and, among the many space missions that can be attached to this discipline, was notably the instigator of the Franco-American “Topex-Poseidon” programme. Launched by Ariane in 1992, this mission was a remarkable success, ushering in a long series of satellites that use radar altimetry to measure with extreme precision the topography of the surface of the oceans. These measurements, which confirm the steady rise in the average sea level, revolutionised physical oceanography and are at the origin of the Mercator Ocean service, which models ocean circulation and continuously produces a forecast of its state.

Michel Lefebvre had a warm personality and was unanimously appreciated by all who worked with him. He was also recognised internationally and numbered countless friends within these different disciplines in many countries.

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