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Raphaël Liégeois will be next Belgian in space

13:54 23/05/2024

Astronaut Raphaël Liégeois from Namur will be the next Belgian in space when he travels to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2026.

With a doctorate in neuroscience, Liégeois will be the second astronaut from the European Space Agency class of 2022 to visit the ISS and the third Belgian to explore the final frontier.

Dirk Frimout was the first Belgian in space, in 1992, and Frank De Winne went in 2002 and 2009.

The European Space Agency (ESA) received more than 22,500 applications for its 2022 class. A total of 17 were selected, plus 12 more to create a reserve.

Liégeois was one of the first five selected and one of the first two to graduate – an achievement in itself.

ESA’s director general Josef Aschbacher announced Liégeois’ selection for a six-month mission starting in the autumn of 2026. He will be joined by astronaut Sophie Adenot from France (pictured above).

“I found out several weeks ago,” Liégeois told RTBF. “In just a few days, I had to pack my bags and I'm already in Houston, Texas, training.”

The training includes coursework on the various ISS systems and procedures, plus fitting for a spacesuit.

Liégeois will be not only the third Belgian astronaut in over 30 years, but also the first French-speaking one.

“I try not to think too much about the pressure, but in terms of responsibilities, having this chance to go into space and trying to share that with as many people as possible is a dream come true,” said Liégeois.

“I'm going to try to live up to that responsibility."

Details of the mission are not yet available, but Liégeois expects to be mostly in the United States over the next two years of training.

“There will soon be a call in Belgium to select the experiments that I'll be carrying out on board, but all that has yet to be defined,” said Liégeois.

“We'll be carrying out international experiments from all the partners in the ISS adventure, but there will be a few slots reserved for Belgian experiments.”

Being one of the first astronauts selected is an advantage when it comes to future missions, which could include the Artemis programme, which aims to send humans back to the Moon.

That programme, which has been postponed several times, will give priority to American astronauts, but Nasa is expected to offer a few places to its foreign partners.

“The Moon is a very distant goal – we're concentrating on the ISS and we're going to work for the ISS for two and a half years,” Liégeois said.

“All five members of our class will be going to the station by 2030. The first seats that the European Space Agency has obtained for the Artemis programme are reserved for the previous class, that of Thomas Pesquet. First we'll try to do a good job on the ISS, then we'll see.”

Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons