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Welcome back Atlantis, good luck Frank! May 26, 2009

Posted by Sarah in belgium, science, space.
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Welcome back Atlantis

After a fascinating 13-day mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, Space Shuttle Atlantis and its crew touched down safely at Edwards Air Force Base on Sunday 24 May. Welcome home Atlantis! The mission to repair and upgrade Hubble was closely followed by space and astronomy enthusiasts around the world (yup that includes me), thanks to the great coverage on NASA TV.

A welcoming ceremony is taking place today at 4 pm Central Time, watch it live here.

I’m delighted the astronauts got the job done and Hubble is ready for its final stint. Unfortunately I had to miss the landing as I was on a little jaunt around Britain to attend some meetings and catch up with friends and family.

Great also to have Mike Massimino back on live twitter, telling us all about the weirdness of being back on Earth.

Good luck Frank!

Frank-De-WinneThree astronauts will take off from the Baikonur cosmodrome tomorrow for the International Space Station. Representing the European Space Agency is Belgian Frank De Winne, who will also become the first European commander of the ISS during his 6-month stay. Good luck Frank!

Read more about the mission here. Watch a Q&A session with him on ESA’s YouTube channel here.

Image: G. Blevins/LA Daily News

Europe’s spacetastic 2009 February 11, 2009

Posted by Sarah in science.
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Herschel and Planck, snug as a bug

2009 is an exciting year for the European space community, with some high-profile launches, an astronaut recruitment programme, new launch vehicles, and, let’s not forget, a Belgian becoming the first ever European commander of the International Space Station.

Most anticipated for astronomers worldwide, however, is the launch of two major astronomy missions, Herschel and Planck. These two space telescopes are both designed to operate at the L2 Lagrangian point – a gravitationally stable point 1.5M km from Earth – and will be launched together on board an Ariane 5 on 16 April, from Korou.

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Le Grand Jacques February 6, 2009

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The Guardian today has a nice article about a new Jacques Brel album recently released with the Belgian legend’s earlier songs from the 1950s – aptly named Jacques Brel in the 50s: The Birth of a Genius. The article has some great quotes from other musical legends like David Bowie about Brel.

Brel is one of my favourite musicians – one of many that I will sadly never get to see. But I never get tired of his music, and here is one of my favourites, Amsterdam. And did I mention he’s from Belgium?

Today I’m in….. January 19, 2009

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The MIRI engineering model, ready for testing

The MIRI engineering model, ready for testing

Today, and for the rest of this week, I’m in the city of Leuven, Belgium. Together with some colleagues from the Catholic University of Leuven and various other institutes in Europe I’m spending a few days working on some aspects of calibration and testing for MIRI, the mid-infrared instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope. The JWST, although offcially its “successor”, will differ from Hubble in that it will be optimised for observations in the infrared, rather than the optical or ultraviolet. Although great science can be done at the shorter wavelengths, achieving top notch image quality is more demanding at shorter wavelengths – with the costs for JWST far exceeding initial estimates as it is, who knows what the budget would have had to be for an optical JWST?

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Belgium rule the Galaxy November 25, 2008

Posted by Sarah in science.
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Well, not quite perhaps…. But good news!

ESA announced last week that Belgium’s second man in space, Frank Dewinne, will become the first non-American or non-Russian to command the International Space Station. After a first visit in 2002, Dewinne, 47, will be returning to the ISS on board a Russian Soyuz in May next year. He’ll be part of the first 6-man crew on board the station, taking advantage of the upgrades taking place during the current ongoing mission. He may even be able to drink his own pee! During the last few weeks of his 6-month stay, the Belgian civil engineer and pilot will take command of the ISS crew, ending the Americo-Russian dominance of the post.

If you read Dutch you can read more here.

Incidentally, Belgium’s first man in space was Dirk Frimout (in English here!),  who travelled on Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1992. Dirk has since been immortalised in Suske & Wiske, one of Belgium’s most popular comics. He was voted the 161st and 26th Greatest Belgian by the Flemish and Wallonian communities respectively. Placed higher in Wallonia than in Flanders – ha, who says we can’t get along?!

Go Frank, go Belgium!