They’ve been in space: Nicole Stott, Robert Thirsk and Reinhold Ewald, three astronauts at UCLouvain

It is this double anniversary that is celebrated on the occasion of Belgian Space Week. At UCLouvain, this event materialized on Tuesday 18 October in a day which, among other things, enabled around 300 high school students (Martin V high school in Louvain-la-Neuve, Smile School in Mont-Saint-Guibert, Sainte-Julienne de Fléron school center and Karreveld plural high school in Brussels) to launch their own rocket and meet three astronauts.

American Nicole Stott completed two space flights, in 2009 and 2011, and lived 104 days in space as a crew member on the ISS, rubbing shoulders with Frank De Winne and the space shuttle.

Robert Thirsk flew on the Space Shuttle in 1996, and in 2009 he was the first Canadian to board a Soyuz. He was with a certain Frank De Winne.

German Reinhold Ewald flew to Russia’s MIR station in 1997.

All three shared their experiences, their passion, their love for the space and answered some questions from the students, although we regret the sometimes approximate quality of the translations.

The essentials are not there, and we will remember that all three were marked for life by their journey(s) in space. “I had the privilege of going to MIR”witnesses the German. “Even now I have to pinch myself to believe that the experience I had was real”launches the American. “I had the honor of flying twice”emphasizes the Canadian.

“Be crew members on the ship Earth, not passengers”

Nicole Stott shared her amazement with the students once up there. “It seems obvious, but once in space I thought to myself, oh my god, I live on a planet. We don’t always realize that. We’re all earthlings, and the only thing keeping us protected is a thin blue color line the atmosphere We must understand that our role is not to be passengers on this ship which is Earth, but rather crew members who must cooperate.

The American astronaut, who has a spacewalk to her credit, says that after her engineering studies she worked at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “I realized that 99% of what astronauts did wasn’t fly in space, but that’s what I did. I thought astronauts were special people though. But I had mentors who told me that I had to pick up my pen and fill out the application form.”

“Have a Plan B”

Robert Thirsk was 15 when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. “I was fascinated by the Apollo program and decided to become, if possible, an astronaut.” He also recognizes one person’s influence on his journey that led him to space. He was an engineering student when a professor who saw something special in him asked him what his career plan was. He told her about his spatial desire. This professor made him so aware that many health-level questions arose in connection with space. To increase his chances of being taken, he advised him to also study medicine. A paying choice.

“Do what you love, persevere and add something extra because you will be recruited on your talents and abilitiessupports Reinhold Ewald . And have a plan B.”

The moon in focus

For his part, the Canadian said he hoped so “one of you will go to the Moon and in 10 to 15 years to Mars. We are not yet able to go to the red planet, but I hope that students from UCLouvain will help solve problems that still needs to be addressed.”

And by evoking the concept of time dilation and to convince of the benefit of space exploration, he will slide smiling: “When I traveled on board the ISS at 28,000 km/h, considering the time I stayed there, I came back one hundredth of a second younger than if I had stayed on Earth…”

They launched their rocket

A rocket caught mid-flight. ©EdA

A plastic bottle, a few pieces of cardboard for the fins and a bit of tape: in the end it doesn’t take much to build a… water rocket.

On Tuesday, as part of Belgian Space Week, high school students (Martin V high school in Louvain-la-Neuve, Smile School in Mont-Saint-Guibert, Sainte-Julienne school center in Fléron and Karreveld plural secondary school in Brussels) took part in a rocket launch competition at Place Montesquieu in Louvain-la-Neuve.

The goal was for their machine, built in class, to hit a target, a basketball hoop, located 9.50 m from the shooting range and 3 m high.

    On the firing line.
On the firing line. ©EdA

Once the rocket was filled with some water and attached to the launch pad, the students had to pump to put enough pressure in the bottle to burst the stopper. All that was left was to choose the launch angle and remove the rod that holds the rocket to the ramp…

The result is not always guaranteed, as only one rocket managed to hit the vertical bar of the basket, the others generally took off much higher than the target and even ended up in the neighboring tree.

“At the content level, this allowed us to see the parameters that affect the track and analyze them with the help of computer, but also to realize that reality is not always what the computer program plans.”explains Mrs. Balbeur, physics teacher from Sainte-Julienne.

    Once the bottle rocket was pressurized, all that was left was to choose the launch angle and remove the rod that holds the machine to the launch pad...
Once the bottle rocket was pressurized, all that remained was to choose the launch angle and remove the rod that holds the device to the launch pad… © ÉdA

Leave a Comment