The second Belgian professional astronaut, Frank De Winne, is full of praise for Raphaël Liégeois. He calls him a “scientist of a high level”, who is also strong in science communication. In addition, De Winne particularly praises Liégeois’ human qualities.
“He is extremely resistant to stress,” says Frank De Winne. “He is someone who can work in a team, also together with people from different cultures. Those are all qualities you need as an astronaut.”
Frank De Winne heads the training center for European astronauts in Cologne and will therefore also take Raphaël Liégeois under his wing. “First there is a basic training in April for Liégeois and for the four other career astronauts who were selected at ESA on Wednesday. Once Liégeois is assigned to a space mission, he will receive training for the flight.” That first mission is to the International Space Station, in 2026 at the earliest.
READ ALSO. He cycled from Singapore through Siberia to our country and now he goes even further: Raphaël Liégeois becomes the third Belgian in space
The fact that a Belgian has become an astronaut and that De Winne has a successor makes him happy and proud. He thinks it is important that Belgium, according to him an important space-faring country in Europe, is represented in the European astronaut corps. But De Winne says he is happy with every new European astronaut: “It is important that Europe has astronauts,” De Winne explains. “This inspires young people. We’re going to need a lot of people in the future who want to become engineers or scientists to solve the problems we face in our world today. Astronauts contribute a lot as an inspiration for people who aspire to such a scientific career.”
Small on Earth, but big in space
“We went for it right from the start. We didn’t want to regret not doing everything we could. The fact that it finally succeeded is primarily due to the truly exceptional qualities of Raphaël Liégeois,” said Secretary of State Dermine
“There were more than 20,000 candidates in the beginning. There are five who are now professional astronauts and that includes “un petit belge”. That is absolutely incredible. All Belgians are proud today. We are a small country on planet Earth, but a big one in space.”
This is also reflected in the investments our country makes in European space travel. Only four countries contribute more net to ESA than Belgium. “Every year we contribute about 300 million euros and this year considerably more. We do this for three reasons: for science in Belgium, for the economic payback effects for our industry and employment and also for the symbol of having a Belgian astronaut.”
Secretary of State Dermine does not like the word lobbying, but the appointment of Raphaël Liégeois as the new astronaut did involve lobbying, he admits. “We made it clear to the other countries that we had ambition. Everyone has played their part at every level. Even the king did. Two weeks ago he organized a meeting with Joseph Aschbacher, the Austrian director of the ESA. That was very helpful.”