Brussels, 14 Mar 2003
The 16 members of Europe's astronaut corps came together for the first time on 13 March in order to convey a message to EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin: Europe needs a visionary goal in human space exploration.
The astronauts were invited to Brussels to present their feedback on the recently published Green Paper on space policy. Gerhard Thiele, acting head of the corps told CORDIS News that Mr Busquin had appreciated this forward-looking approach.
All of the astronauts present agreed that Europe has a huge amount of talent and the technology to do what others are doing. 'We have capability in all areas, we just have to combine them, and that would be a great thing for Europe,' said one of the astronauts. 'We know we can do it,' added Mr Thiele.
'We have European experience and industrial capability. What we lack is independent access to space for humans,' Umberto Guidoni, who became the first European to visit the international space station (ISS) in 2001, told CORDIS News.
All astronauts agreed however that the desire for European independence in terms of access to space is not a desire to go it alone, but to present Europe as a stronger partner in relation to other parties, particularly the US and Russia. 'We want independence in the positive sense of the word,' said Gerhard Thiele.
With the US shuttle fleet temporarily grounded, European access to space would be a huge help to the space community, and particular those working on the ISS.
Umberto Guidoni defended the continuation human spaceflight in the light of recent suggestions that the use of robots would be a safer alternative. '[Human spaceflight} may not be necessary now, but it will be in the future and we have to prepare for the future. We need to develop the skills and the technology now. The Russians are so advanced because they started early,' said Mr Guidoni.
But are Europe's citizens aware of and supportive of Europe's efforts in space? There were calls for the programmes in which Europeans are involved to be made more visible. No shuttle goes up without some form of European input, be it an experiment or an astronaut, claimed one astronaut.
Mr Guidoni is confident of public support for what he and his colleagues do: 'I believe that there is interest, and you can measure that. Astronauts are often public speakers and there is an interest in what we do. It's the dream of everybody to go into space,' he said.
For further information on the European astronaut corps, please visit:
For further information on the space Green Paper, please visit: