Former Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne on Friday called on Belgium and other European Union member states to invest more in space research. Speaking at the inauguration of the European Space Expo at the Place de la Monnaie in Brussels, he added that “citizens must not see it as a cost, because it is based on public funds, but rather as an investment in learning, in scientific knowledge, in services, with the resulting innovation and jobs, and also in humanity”.
Europe has 450 million inhabitants but its space budget is only 10% to 20% of that of the United States, which has a population of about 320 million, “yet research is fundamental to our future,” said De Winne, who went on two space missions, in 2002 and 2009.
The exposition, which is free and lasts from October 14 to 25, has already received 950,000 visitors in 32 European cities. It showcases the direct impact of space-related activities and jobs on the daily lives of European citizens. “Whether it’s in telecommunications, mapping, airline security, navigation, agriculture, sustainable development or climate change, its benefits are felt daily,” De Winne said.
The second Belgian ever to be sent into space, after Dirk Frimout, De Winne hopes the European Space Expo will touch young people and heighten their awareness of space research and its benefits, although he does not see the likelihood of another Belgian following in his footsteps for now. Manned voyages are planned through the European Space Agency (ESA), which programs one per year, and there are many countries on the waiting list, he explained.
However, he added, “I still hope I’ll be able to help send another Belgian astronaut into space in future”.