25 years ago, the first Belgian was sent into space. In the footsteps of Dirk Frimout and Frank De Winne, will you be the one to fly to Mars?


This Friday, during the World Space Week, SCK•CEN celebrated the 25th anniversary of Belgian space flights and space research. The event was an opportunity to to look back into the space flights of two Belgian astronauts, Dirk Frimout and Frank De Winne, but also into the scientific progress made and a promising future in which space travels to Mars are made possible. As part of this, Sarah Baatout, researcher at SCK•CEN, will go on a scientific mission to the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica in December.

The 25th anniversary attracted some 200 professionals, students and scientists to our research centre in Mol. SCK•CEN, the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, plays a leading role in international research on the effects of exposition to ionizing radiation on the human body and its environment. Thanks to research on radioprotection, scientists are now getting a constantly better understanding of how the body of an astronaut works during space flights. Thanks to these technological advances, SCK•CEN contributes to the development of suitable applications so that, one day, travelling to Mars becomes possible.

“Belgian scientists and astronauts play an important role in research and development in the field of space exploration. Scientists and astronauts are working in close collaboration on current and future space discoveries. What we achieved in the last 25 years is incredible but we can achieve even more,” states Frank De Winne.

Scientific mission to Antarctica

SCK•CEN regularly sends experiments into space. Several major projects will be launched this autumn. In November, the first bioreactor of SCK•CEN will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS). Two weeks later, Sarah Baatout, head of unit Radiobiology at SCK•CEN, will take off for the Princess Elisabeth polar station where she will study the impact of extreme living conditions (containment, stress, remoteness, …) on the human immune system and will also perform research on the protective properties of spirulina as food supplement for astronauts. Through videoconferences, she will share her experience on a daily basis with students from various Belgian schools.

“Our scientific mission to Princess Elisabeth station is an important step forward for SCK•CEN and it will provide a lot of information for our space and medical research. Being able to share it with students on a daily basis really fills me with enthusiasm. I want to inspire youngsters for science and to encourage them to develop even further,” explains Sarah Baatout, head of unit Radiobiology at SCK•CEN.

Youngsters: tomorrow’s astronauts

In his speech, Dirk Frimout attached great importance to science and education. “Space expeditions have existed for 60 years and are of utmost importance for science, technology, economy and first and foremost for education. It is the duty of each astronaut to share his/her knowledge with the next generations. Space fuels the imagination of our youngsters and rouses their interest for science. In today’s society, we are in need of youngsters with a scientific and technical background.”

Students’ imagination to infinity and beyond

Throughout the day, students from the kindergarten, primary and secondary sections of the European School in Mol have been showing tons of creativity to make papier-mâché helmets, drawings, rockets and space-related items. Several awards have even been granted to the astronauts in the making who also had the opportunity to ask questions to a real astronaut, Frank De Winne.



     Frank De Winne
     Sarah Baatout, head unit Radiobiology