Astronaut De Winne sees ambitious future for Europeans in space

By SpaceRef Editor
January 29, 2003
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On 17 January 2003, ESA astronaut Frank De Winne was the guest of honour at an informal press conference hosted by Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin in Brussels. De Winne threw down the gauntlet with his ambitious vision of the future European space programme. “We should be doing everything we can to promote European manned space flight,” he said.

“We should be working towards an independent European manned space programme with the kind of launch systems that can get men and women into space,” said De Winne, – so that we no longer have to rely on the Americans and Russians to get us there. But more than that, we cannot go on for another 40 or 50 years simply orbiting the earth. We have to set our sights farther, on the moon, on Mars. What about a European space station? We are already working to develop a full-time working European laboratory within the International Space Station, which should be manned and maintained by Europeans by the year 2004.”

Not Belgians, not Italians – Europeans!

According to De Winne, a former Belgian fighter pilot, Europeans still do not appreciate and celebrate the accomplishments of their astronauts as Europeans. The Odissea mission, for example, in which De Winne recently participated, was met with wide acclaim in Belgium, where a number of events were organised, but it went virtually unnoticed in the rest of Europe. Equally, the Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori’s historic mission was widely celebrated in Italy, but made no impression in most other European countries.

“As European astronauts,” said De Winne, “we want to be examples of real Europeans, yes of course with our different origins, our different languages and cultures, but above all, Europeans who can work together as a team.”

“This is a very important point,” added Busquin. “We have to be able to envisage a European space programme with all-European crews and missions. For this we need to develop autonomy, especially in the area of launchers. Working closely with the Russians can be an important step in that direction. The Russians have a long and successful history of manned space flight from which to draw experience, while they can benefit from our successes in transferring space technologies to groundside industrial applications.

“Space still has the power to inspire,” said Busquin. “Remember that the great advances made by those early European explorers, like Christopher Columbus and Vasco De Gama, were not based on technological innovations but on the pure force of their determination, their fearlessness and their vision. Space still holds the power to inspire us, to drive us onward and outward, to conquer the last frontier.”

For more of De Winne and Busquin’s comments on co-operation with Russia, see the article on the Europe/Russia co-operation in space website.

SpaceRef staff editor.