The European Space Agency (ESA) selected the future astronauts who have been called to join the European Astronaut Corps on Wednesday 23 November, in the presence of the 22 ministers from the contributing nations.
These include Walloon astronaut Raphaël Liégeois, a 34-year-old engineer with multiple degrees. This announcement comes after a rigorous selection process.
Raphaël Liégeois’ profile is not to be sniffed at: he undertakes scientific training, conducts research, contributes to a number of publications, teaches across different continents and disseminates his knowledge to a very large audience. He travels the world on and under water, by air and, sometimes, land, all while playing his guitar or organ.
After studying biomedical engineering at the University of Liège, he became an engineer at the École Centrale in Paris and obtained a master’s degree in fundamental physics from the University of Paris-Sud Orsay.
During the course of his studies, he already participated in a parabolic flight campaign with the French space agency, the CNES, in order to test a physics experiment.
He subsequently pursued a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Liège, where he developed mathematical models for brain functions. He worked as a teaching assistant for various courses there, including systems modelling and non-linear systems.
He conducted a post-doctoral research stay at the National University of Singapore, where his research aimed to define new neuro-imaging markers for neuro-degenerative diseases.
As a senior post-doctoral researcher at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, he developed dynamic models for brain functions, while serving as a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in the United States.
Since 2021, Raphaël Liégeois had been working as a research and teaching fellow at the University of Geneva and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, where he taught neuro-engineering and statistics and conducted research on brain dynamics in health and disease. His research and dissemination efforts have been rewarded on many occasions.
So Raphaël Liégeois is a scientist through and through? That would mean overlooking his penchant for travel and his very personal view of adventure.
He travels the world in every direction, both vertically and horizontally. He takes to the skies in hot-air balloons, gas balloons and gliders as a pilot. A fun means of transport that contrasts with his intense dedication to science. On land, he likes to run. On the water, he dives and sails.
He cycled 6,000 kilometres from Singapore to Belgium with his family in order to meet poets from Asia and Europe. A one-of-a-kind?
His fast-and-furious days and exemplary career are obviously not typical. But it is this personality – the varied tastes, creativity, desire to explain, ability to settle down and mission to solve problems and improve the lives of others through his research – that gives us the wonderful opportunity to see ourselves in him and experience his childhood dream with him: to become an astronaut.
This choice is the result of a long selection process. In 2021, the ESA launched a new recruitment campaign for astronauts and astronauts with physical disabilities. The last call occurred in 2008. It resulted in more than 22,500 applications from every member state in the European Union. The ESA selected 17 candidates from these, including five professional astronauts, eleven members of a reserve group for astronauts and one astronaut with a physical disability, all of whom were ready to carry out missions to the International Space Station and beyond.
Of the five professional astronauts, the European Space Agency selected Belgian-Luxembourgish Raphaël Liégeois, who is originally from the Namur region. He is particularly renowned for his illustrious scientific career.
Belgium is one of the founding members of the ESA and the fifth-largest contributor in absolute terms. Its net contribution to the ESA will increase from €250 million to €305 million starting in 2023. The aerospace sector is responsible for more than 10,000 jobs in Belgium. This sector represents capital challenges in the coming decades, in particular with respect to climate change and the environment, making it important to position ourselves.
The choice of Raphaël Liégeois among the five professional astronauts who will travel to space with the European Space Agency rewards the efforts made by Belgium and, in particular, Wallonia and the French Community of Belgium, who facilitate the emergence of cutting-edge scientific researchers through their infrastructures, research programmes and higher-education establishments.
Safe travels to Raphaël Liégeois!