Brussels, 20 Jan 2003
Europe must keep the spirit of exploration alive, according to Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne, who became the second Belgian to go into orbit in October 2002.
If Europe wants to compete successfully with the US and Russia, it has to look beyond the possibility of orbiting the Earth in 40 or 50 years, said Mr De Winne on 17 January, following a meeting with EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.
The astronaut also sees the development of launcher technology in Europe as crucial to competitiveness.
'If Europe really wants to be a partner, which is very important [...], Europe has to have its own capacity to launch people into space. Then Europe would not simply be in a position to cooperate, but to propose. I am convinced that Europe has the technology to do it; it just needs the political will,' he said.
Another ambition, as highlighted by Mr Busquin, is to have a team of solely European astronauts in space. 'We are not there yet, but you have to dream,' said the Commissioner.
In the meantime, something that Europe can work on is technology transfer, an activity which the EU is currently funding through the ESINET space incubator network. The transfer of space technologies is something that the EU 'could do a little better,' said Mr Busquin. This was a point echoed by Mr De Winne, who said that Europe can play a role in creating spin-offs and encouraging the daily use of applications developed through space research. 'Not everything developed is used by society,' said Mr De Winne.
Mr Busquin reiterated his support for an EU space policy, which he would like to see included in the Convention. A space policy would fundamentally be a research policy, he said. He also emphasised that technology developed in space can have applications on the ground. An example of this is radioprotection. Results obtained from experiments in space can be used to protect those coming into contact with radiation at nuclear reactors.
The Commissioner welcomed the publicity that Mr De Winne's mission has attracted as something which is 'bringing space to the people.' The astronaut responded by saying that he was pleased to be a model for other Europeans and for young people. Space flight is the ultimate way to create excitement and to draw young people towards research, said Mr De Winne.
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