“Never tell yourself that you are not good enough for this, which is something women often repeat to themselves,” said Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in a taped message aimed at encouraging women, who tend to run less. Molecular biologist Heti Helsmortel, a former cancer researcher at Ghent University, is already a candidate.
The European Space Agency (ESA) expects thousands of requests for only a few places, so can one believe them? “Becoming an astronaut is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Secretary of State for Science Policy Thomas Dermin (PS). “We also want to inspire the Belgians, to encourage men, especially women, to enter a scientific profession, as the percentage of graduates in these fields in Belgium is lower than the European average.”
“Aerospace is a thriving industrial sector, while 20 to 25 percent of our engineers will retire in the next five to ten years,” de Winne added. Many experts at the European Space Agency will also retire in the coming years. The vacancies are now for astronauts, but there are many interesting ones, and they have been confirmed many times.
“About 10,000 people work in about a hundred companies that are directly or indirectly active in the aviation industry in Belgium,” Dermen said. “So we’re not just looking for astronauts,” de Winne concluded.
Moreover, space research has very tangible outcomes in healthcare and technology here on Earth, confirmed Angelique van Umbergen, scientific coordinator for human-centered research at the European Space Agency. She noted improved treatments against cardiovascular problems, muscular dystrophy, cardiovascular disease and deteriorating muscle function.