The seeming immortality of those who study and explore the great frontiers of the globe and space was highlighted again when a mountain in one of the remotest parts of New Zealand was named after late Napier luminary Sir Ian Axford.
It came when the New Zealand Geographic Board announced last week that a previously unnamed 1720m-high peak in the Fiordland National Park's Kepler Range had been named Mount Axford.
Contemporary naming or renaming of such geographical features is rare other than righting some of the wrongs of history, from reinstating original names for pre-European times to simply correcting spelling.
But it was at least the third time it has happened for a peak in the Kepler mountains, which overlook Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri. In 2010, "elevations" of 1650m and 1537m respectively were named to recognise space exploration pioneer William Hayward Pickering and astronomer and cosmologist Beatrice Muriel Hill Tinsley.
All achieved global fame, sometimes much less recognised in New Zealand, a point noted by astronomer Gary Sparks after Sir Ian's passing a decade ago when he said: "His name should be up there with the likes of Pickering and Rutherford."
Born in Dannevirke and Dux of Napier Boys' High School in 1950, Sir Ian had an asteroid named after him (5097 Axford) on his 60th birthday in January 1993, and received several medals and honours, including being named New Zealander of the Year for 1995 and being knighted in the New Year Honours of 1996.
Armed with double bachelor's degrees in science and engineering from the University of Canterbury he spent about 40 years abroad, from 1957 to 2000, apart from three years as Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University in 1982-1985, on sabbatical from Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy in Germany.
It was as director of the institute that he derived his greatest acclaim as it participated in international mission Giotto to Halley's Comet, and solar observatories Ulysses and SOHO.
According to a Wikipedia note, "the science of all three missions had a strong connection to the activity of the sun: SOHO and Ulysses monitored solar activity, and the Giotto mission was able to monitor the interaction of solar particles with Halley's Comet".
Most of his research was associated with the magnetosphere and the heliosphere.
Awarded Freedom of the City in Napier in 2000, he returned to his hometown, where he died in 2010, aged 77.
Wife Lady Joy Axford, nearing 90 and still living in Napier where she grew up the daughter of a prominent builder, said the drive for the naming of the mountain came from biographer Bill Allen, and the case was prepared by Allen's daughter, Sylvia.
In the biography for the Royal Society in England, Allen wrote that Sir Ian was one of the greatest plasma physicists of the space age.
"He made fundamental contributions to a wide range of topics in the fields of space physics and astrophysics, including the dynamics of the Earth's magnetosphere, the magnetic field reconnection process, the Sun's atmosphere and the formation and evolution of the solar wind, the interaction of the solar wind with the interstellar medium and with comets, cosmic ray propagation and modulation in the Solar System, the acceleration of cosmic rays in supernova shocks, and the use of robotic spacecraft in the exploration of the Solar System," he wrote.
"Ian was also a remarkable science administrator, completely restructuring the Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy and transforming it into one of the world's leading space and atmospheric research institutes," it continued. "He was a great advocate of international collaboration in science, and reinvigorated several flagging institutions such as the European Geophysical Society and the International Council of Scientific Unions Committee on Space Research."
He hadn't had a street named after him in Napier and when contacted for an opinion the family agreed earlier this year, although Sir Ian had never been to Fiordland National Park.
"He had asthma, so he wouldn't have been climbing mountains," said Lady Axford.
Geographic Board chairman Anselm Haanen said themed place names that commemorate prominent New Zealand space scientists are a unique feature of the Kepler Mountains.
After confirming with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu that the mountain did not have an original Māori name, the board supported naming it "to recognise Sir Ian's distinguished international career as a researcher and leader of science organisations", Haanen said. "It is a fitting tribute to celebrate him with a place name that makes his story part of our future history."