Thursday 20 October - This year marks 30 years since Dirk Frimout became the first Belgian in space and 20 years since Frank De Winne followed him. To celebrate these two special events, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) organised the third Space Day.
1,300 pupils from the 4th, 5th and 6th grade of secondary school were introduced to five astronauts and the wonderful world of space exploration. During the programme in ULB’s Paul-Emile Janson auditorium, VUB and ULB researchers talked about their research and its impact on space travel. They discussed topics such as how astronauts are protected during their return to Earth, and the impact of weightlessness on bone health. And – of course – how likely it is that extraterrestrial life exists.
After the scientists' presentations, three representatives of the Belgian space industry described their sector. Finally, the children had 90 minutes to ask the astronauts questions.
This Q&A session was a highlight of Space Day, not least because of the astronauts’ renown. Besides Dirk Frimout, there was Charles Bolden – a former Nasa administrator, with four shuttle missions to his name – former Nasa astroanut Anna Fisher and Robert Thirsk, who spent six months on the International Space Station. Vladimir Pletser of the European Space Agency was also there.
Space Day is part of Belgian Space Week, during which various cities organise themed events. With the initiative, VUB and ULB aim to get secondary school students excited about sciences in general and space research in particular. After the Q&A, the visitors left for the nearby VUB Main Campus student restaurant to enjoy a Space Lunch with VUB vice-rector for Research Pieter Ballon and his ULB colleague Marius Gilbert, among others. Several students also joined them.