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De Croo visits NASA in Houston with Belgian astronaut Raphael Leguis Science

De Croo visits NASA in Houston with Belgian astronaut Raphael Leguis Science

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo visited NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Saturday, along with aspiring Belgian astronaut Raphael Leguis. Liegua is expected to become the third Belgian to go into space starting in 2026.

Rafael Liegua was selected in November 2022, along with four other Europeans, to be part of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) astronaut team, with the initial goal of spending approximately six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The nearly 36-year-old engineer, neuroscience researcher, and hot air balloon pilot has just begun his basic training. Training takes place mainly at the European Astronaut Center in Cologne (Germany), but also in other partner countries of this international programme, including Russia, Japan, Canada and of course the United States.

On Saturday afternoon (local time), the aspiring Belgian astronaut, together with the Prime Minister, visited the US Space Agency’s Lyndon Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Like the Prime Minister and his entourage, he was able to see life-sized versions of the various modules that make up the International Space Station, as well as a replica of the future spacecraft for the Artemis mission, a NASA program aimed at returning humans to Earth. The International Space Station by 2025. To bring the moon.

“It’s my first time coming to Houston, and it’s very emotional,” Rafael Leguis told some reporters. “We will be here for two years once we get the job,” he added. The five new European astronauts are expected to go into space between 2026 and 2030.

The Belgian will join his four European colleagues on Monday: Frenchwoman Sophie Adino, Briton Rosemary Cogan, Spaniard Pablo Alvarez Fernandez, and Swiss Marco Siber. They will have their first contact with NASA, the leader in space programs.

The Lyndon Johnson Space Center has been used for manned space missions, and is best known for the Apollo lunar missions of the 1960s and 1970s. The space center has a huge swimming pool that allows for partial weightless conditions to be simulated.

Prime Minister De Croo noted that Belgium makes the fifth largest contribution to the ESA budget. So far, our country has sent two astronauts into space: Dirk Freimuth (March-April 1992) and Frank De Winne (October-November 2002 and May-December 2009).

The Prime Minister and Liegwa concluded their visit to the space center with a visit to NASA’s Mission Control Center, which constantly monitors the International Space Station and ensures the well-being of people of different nationalities in space.