The flag of Belgium flew proudly over ESA’s technical heart in the Netherlands as ESTEC was honoured with a visit by Thomas Dermine, Belgium’s State Secretary for Science Policy, Recovery Program and Strategic Investments, accompanied by new Belgian astronaut Raphaël Liégeois.
The day’s event – an ESA Day in cooperation in Belgium – also gave this new recruit an opportunity to meet his two predecessors as Belgian astronauts: Dirk Frimout, who flew on the Space Shuttle in 1992 as the first Belgian in space, and Frank De Winne, who flew twice to the International Space Station in 2002 and 2009, becoming the first European commander of the Station, going on to head ESA’s European Astronaut Centre.
These distinguished visitors, accompanied by ESA’s Belgian delegation, were greeted by ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director of Technology, Engineering and Quality and Head of ESTEC Torben Henriksen and ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker.
The group were briefed on the acceleration of ESA R&D programmes following the Ministerial Council last November and new investment in the Belgium-based European Space Security and Education Centre, at Redu.
They were then shown the ESTEC Test Centre, the largest satellite test centre in Europe, whose 3000 sq. m environmentally controlled area includes facilities to simulate all aspects of space, and recently performed testing of ESA’s Juice mission to Jupiter which is due to be launched from French Guiana on 13 April. This launch event will also be honoured with a visit by His Majesty King Philippe of Belgium.
ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said he was honoured to be hosting this ESA Day: “Belgium is a very significant member of the ESA family, and Thomas played a major role in making our recent ESA Council at Ministerial Level such a success, helping to bring together different Member States in areas of like-minded ambitions.”
State Secretary Dermine addressed Belgian ESTEC personnel at the end of his visit: “This is a special day today, not least because our three Belgian astronauts meet up only rarely: Dirk, Frank and now Raphaël, of whom we are very proud of after the selection process he has been through.
“Of all the various duties I perform, the one I do with the most enjoyment is space, and not just because of working with Josef and all the ESA colleagues. Belgium is strong in space, strong in ESA and we do it not just because it is good for Belgian science, good for Belgian industry but also for the dream it embodies.
“If you’re active in politics you don’t have too many opportunities to dream. There are many reasons to be profoundly depressed if you look at the state of the world today, but space makes me profoundly optimistic… I was just visiting Belgian high schools with ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and the response was amazing. The human species as an animal likes to dream beyond our current situation, and that’s part of space too.”
State Secretary Dermine concluded by asking his countrymen and women to serve as informal ambassadors to space, to talk to schools, family, friends and neighbours about what they do, to encourage more people to become knowledgeable and get involved in the space sector.