Raphaël Liégeois, 34-year-old native of Namur, new Belgian astronaut

It’s official: Raphaël Liégois, a 34-year-old multi-graduate engineer from Namur, has just been selected with a handful of other candidates by the European Space Agency (ESA) to become an astronaut. The announcement, this Wednesday, comes after a drastic selection (more than 20,000 applications in Europe). Raphaël Liégeois will carry out missions within the ISS (the international space station), and even beyond.

It had been more than ten years since the ESA had recruited any astronauts. At the end of a selection campaign that lasted a year and a half, around twenty other so-called “reserve” astronauts complete the picture.

The figures are dizzying: ESA received some 22,500 valid applications (including a good thousand Belgians), as well as 257 open applications for a position as an astronaut with a physical disability. The skimming was draconian, several phases of tests (selection on file, cognitive and physical tests) having followed one another for a year and a half.

During the third phase, which ended last June, only 400 of them were able to claim the holy grail of an astronaut career. It should be noted, and this is far from trivial, that the Agency’s recruitment policy is intended to be inclusive. “Medical assessment has also been expanded to include astronaut applicants with physical disabilities, for whom typical physical requirements would be a barrier to selection,” ESA explains. “In this first case of recruitment of” parastronauts “, those who have a deficiency in the lower limbs and/or whose height is less than 130 cm are taken into account.”

The fourth phase of evaluation and physical abilities began in May: “The work of an astronaut is physically demanding, requiring endurance, dexterity and more”, detailed the ESA this summer: “this evaluation allows to ensure that the selected candidates are able to cope with the physical exertion required by this position, both on Earth and in space.”

The final phase, which began after the summer, consisted of an interview between the aspiring astronaut and an ESA committee. But talent is not enough, and, behind the scenes, the 22 Member States of ESA (including Belgium), worked to ensure that their foal landed this position capable of making the country shine internationally (which the think, for example, of the aura of a Thomas Pésquet in France)…

Successor of Dirk Frimout and Frank De Winne

Thus, Thomas Dermine, the Belgian Secretary of State for science policy (and therefore in charge of space), has never masked his wish to see a Belgian succeed the national heroes that are Dirk Frimout and Frank De Winne. So much so that last May, during a working session at the ESRIN space center (Rome) with the Director General of ESA, Joseph Aschbacher the Belgian presented in a detailed “lobbying note” all the Belgium’s numerical arguments. “Our objective was to show that it was completely legitimate for Belgium to have an astronaut, and that if this was not the case, it should be shown to us,” said the Secretary of State, who did not did not fail to hand over a statue of Tintin’s rocket to the director of the ESA “so that he thinks of Belgium every day”.

The lobbying did not stop there, Dermine confident that he had secured strong support last June, during the visit of a certain… Thomas Pesquet to Brussels. The latter “assured us that he would be an additional ambassador for Belgium”, confided the Secretary of State, redoubling his efforts last September, when it was noted that another Belgian was still in the running. After what he describes as a “political negotiation”, it was the King himself who received the boss of the ESA on November 10, before the final decision fell on Wednesday. “We knew Belgium was in a good position but we had to make sure that Belgium’s position was respected”, concludes, delighted, the Secretary of State.

Raphaël Liégeois will join the European Astronaut Center located in Cologne, Germany. He will undergo a 12-month basic training there, before the next phase, training on the International Space Station. “Once assigned to a mission, their training will be tailored to the specific tasks of the mission”; indicates the ESA.

+ More info to read soon on lavenir.net and in L’Avenir this Thursday, November 24, on Tablet , smart phone Where computer

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