The new Belgian astronaut Raphaël Liégeois: “You have to give meaning to your dreams”


Raphaël Liégeois in Paris shortly after his appointment. – Belgium

The new Belgian astronaut Raphaël Liégeois: “You have to give meaning to your dreams”

Published on Thursday, November 24, 2022 at 8:06 PM

Through Gaspard Grosjean

When did you hear you were going to be an astronaut?

In fact, I didn’t officially hear my selection until 11am this Wednesday! In other words, barely 2-3 hours before the Agency’s official announcement (ESA, European Space Agency, editor’s note).

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And what was your first reaction?

Lots of emotions and pride too. I’m really lucky and I also measure the responsibility I have, both to work with the other astronauts in the class, but also in relation to our predecessors. For my part, and this is a message I want to convey, I really hope to contribute to a better world because I am convinced that science is a starting point to solve the world’s difficulties.

Read also
Raphaël Liégeois, first Walloon in space: “We can dream of the moon, but a mission on the space station would be great”

Becoming an astronaut was a dream, now you are. The moon is another dream?

Of course we can dream of the Moon, but a mission on the ISS (International Space Station) would be great. I am very happy about that, to be able to share it with as many people as possible, especially young people. You have to give meaning to your dreams. The moon is a longer term for us. we already need to hone our skills on closer missions. It is therefore quite normal that the previous selection (that of Thomas Pesquet, editor’s note) goes first to the moon. Then we will see what the future holds for us.

What do you think could have tipped the scales in your favor?

The interviews with the ESA board were quite impressive. The directors of the different teams interview us and put us in uncomfortable situations to see how we react. I had the impression that I was not so serene, but I clearly answered the questions well. […] In addition, having a background in circus arts has also helped me a lot in managing the stress during these performances.

What’s next for you?

For us it is a move to Cologne in Germany (He currently lives in Switzerland, editor’s note) in the coming months and we will start training from the beginning of April. There we receive a year of basic training and then we have a waiting period to be placed on a specific mission. Once you are, you have two years of very intense training. So at the earliest it would be a space mission in 2026. It can go fast, because we can even wait a few years. To give you an idea, you should know that Thomas Pesquet, for example, waited seven years before being assigned to his first mission (he was appointed in 2009 and made his first spaceflight in 2016, ed.).

Thomas Pesquet and Raphael Liegeois.

Do you have fears?

My biggest fear is that I have a medical problem. Or something like that that would end the dream for the wrong reason.

And your wife, isn’t she afraid to know that you’re going to take off in a space rocket?

In fact, we never really discussed that or the risks that might be there. We talked about many things like the fact that I would have to work a lot, that we would have to move with the family, etc. But we see it more as an opportunity for the family than just for me.

You know how to express yourself in five languages, you float and balloon, you play different instruments (piano, guitar)… Can you tell us more about who you really are?

So I am 34 years old, married and father of two children. I come from Belgrade (Namur) and studied at the Royal Atheneum François Bovesse in Namur. Then I studied engineering in Liège, where I also did a thesis. I spent quite a bit of time there, more than ten years in fact. So I would say it is also a city of hearts after living there for so long. Then I worked as a neuroscientist abroad for several years – now the United States, Asia, Switzerland.

You also have dual Belgian-Luxembourg nationality for a few years, even if you become a “Belgian” astronaut. Is it also a country with which you have a special bond?

Yes, my parents are from the province of Luxembourg in Belgium, but we have a family history linked to the Grand Duchy. For example, my grandmother used to sing songs for us in Luxembourgish, my father went to the conservatory in Luxembourg and my parents have been working there for twenty years.

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