Raphaël Liégeois, new Belgian astronaut, back at ULiège
A few days before starting his astronaut training at the ESA's European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Raphaël Liégeois was back at the University of Liège. "Back" because he graduated in 2011 as a biomedical civil engineer and, three years later, as a doctor of engineering sciences from the University of Liège.
On 23 November 2022, Raphaël Liégeois officially joined the new class of European astronauts. The announcement was made in Paris by ESA following the meeting of ministers in charge of European space policy. For Raphaël Liégeois, this was the end of a long and rigorous selection process for which more than 22,000 young Europeans initially applied!
The University of Liège gave an enthusiastic welcome to Raphaël Liégeois who, after Liège, continued his training around the world, in Asia and in Europe.
Contact with young people and the public is an important mission for astronauts. "They are role models for young people, with whom they can identify. It is also about promoting science and the scientific and technical professions that we need. We hope that Raphaël's example will inspire people to take up these careers," said Thomas Dermine, Secretary of State for Science Policy in Belgium, who took part in all the activities of the Liège event.
"We are proud to have contributed to your career", continued Anne-Sophie Nyssen, Rector of ULiège. "I was chairing the University's Board of Directors when the announcement of your appointment reached me, and all the members applauded you. It was a joy and a pride that one of our graduates should succeed so brilliantly in a new stage of his life.
For Raphaël Liégeois, it was a return to the campus and the lecture halls of Liège for the first time in almost ten years. "It's a bit of an emotional moment," he exclaimed in room 604 of the Amphithéâtres de l'Europe in front of the students of the bachelor's degree in civil engineering at ULiège. "The last time I was in this lecture hall, I was in your place, I was like you!
Raphaël Liégeois also recalled that he was staying at the “Homes du Sart Tilman”, where there is a particular festive atmosphere, of camaraderie and solidarity too. "Is there still a football table?" he asked current residents...
"I dream of becoming an astronaut”
"My name is Raphael and I dream of becoming an astronaut". This is the first sentence of the letter that Raphaël Liégeois sent to the President of the Jury of the Pisart scholarships, which help students who are starting their studies in the School of Engineering. 18 years later, this memory, opportunely recalled by Raphaël Liégeois, has a prophetic air...
"Make your dreams come true”
More than 700 young people met Raphaël Liégeois during the day. His words captivated the audience. "Go after your dreams, make them come true. Take the time to observe, to marvel. And believe in yourself", Raphaël Liégeois repeated over and over again.
When he received confirmation of his appointment to the ESA last November, Raphaël Liégeois sent this message: "Tintin is going back to the Moon!”
More than 200 students from the 3rd and 4th grades of secondary school joined the Exèdre Dick Annegarn for a morning of lectures organised by Réjouisciences.
After Aïda Alvera Azcarate's lecture on oceans in space, Raphaël Liégeois made a remarkable entrance into the room to great applause, accompanied by the Rector, Anne-Sophie Nyssen, and Thomas Dermine.
In his lecture "Space: the next frontier", Raphaël Liégeois recalled his training, his selection for the ESA and the major scientific themes that led him to become passionate about space.
A future astronaut, but not yet an astronaut, Raphaël Liégeois invited Claudie Haigneré, the first French woman astronaut, doctor and former minister, to share her experience of the two space flights she took part in on board the International Space Station. A fascinating presentation, held by videoconference, as disruptions in Thalys transport prevented Claudie Haigneré from reaching the Sart Tilman.
School of Engineering’ Career Conference
Raphaël Liégeois gave the second lecture of the day in front of more than 500 students and staff members. It was organised as part of the School of Engineering' career conferences and was accessible to the whole community, both in person and via streaming.
In the audience, 200 students of the Bachelor of Civil Engineering were invited by Prof. Benoît Heinrichs to ask their questions to the man who was in their place only a few years ago.
The conference ended with video testimonies from Raphaël Liégeois' two thesis co-promotors, Rodolphe Sepulchre, now Professor at the KU Leuven, and Steven Laureys. These testimonies obviously moved Raphaël Liégeois, as did that of Dirk Frimout, the first Belgian astronaut, Doctor honoris causa of the ULiège (like Frank De Winne, the second Belgian astronaut), who had insisted on being present.
In the company of Prof. Eric Delhez, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences, and Thomas Dermine, the Rector Anne-Sophie Nyssen presented the ULiège gift: a set of sports clothing with the logo of the University of Liège, "for your future sports training at the Astronauts' training centre in Cologne".
Liège Space Centre
"I had never been to the CSL", Raphaël Liégeois remarked at the cocktail party organised in his honour at the Liège Space Centre. But he was somewhat at home in this ULiège centre, which is a facility of the European Space Agency (ESA) specialising in optical tests in space.
Welcomed by Prof. Serge Habraken, Academic Director, who recalled the plans to extend the CSL's test capacities (FOCAL-7 project), Raphaël Liégeois exchanged views with Willy Borsus, Vice-President of Wallonia and Minister of Economy and Research, Frédéric Daerden, Vice-President of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and Minister of the Budget, the academic authorities and representatives of BELSPO and SKYWIN. He also found the time to exchange with his friends from yesterday at ULiège, whom he had particularly wanted to invite for his day in Liège.
See you between 2026 and 2031!