André Kuipers: bringing space a little closer to home

ISS News

Dutch astronaut André Kuipers returns to Earth on Sunday after spending over six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Dutch astronaut André Kuipers returns to Earth on Sunday after spending over six months aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Down here on terra firma, we have been able to follow his every move on Twitter and via live video links. Kuipers’ exploits have brought space that little bit closer to home.

“He’ll never stop smiling again,” was the comment when Kuipers entered the air lock of the ISS for the second time in his life over six months ago. The Dutchman was grinning from ear to ear as he greeted his colleagues. In his own words, it felt like coming home.

From his “home in the sky”, Kuipers launched into an enthusiastic barrage of messages, tweets, photos, videos and Q&A sessions for the benefit of a fascinated audience back on Planet Earth. Enthusiasm among children in the Netherlands is riding high, observes Hans van der Lande of Space Expo in Noordwijk.

We’ve welcomed between twice and three times as many visitors as normal. We no longer have to explain to the younger kids what a rocket is. They want to know what gravity is and why mankind wants to travel into space.

As far as Van der Lande is aware, every school in the country is involved in Spaceship Earth, a project aimed at upper primary school classes and junior secondary school classes. “It’s been a huge hit. Children are interested in the whole team and you can see that it’s inspiring them.”

From the heart
The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) is also delighted with André Kuipers. From the ISS, the astronaut took hundreds of photographs which have reached millions of people. “His message is that we have to be careful with the world’s natural resources. We only have one planet and we have to take good care of it,” says Dylan de Gruijl of WWF. Kuipers explicitly asked to become a WWF ambassador after his first space voyage.

His latest photographs not only show the Earth’s beauty but also the impact of deforestation, natural disasters and ongoing urbanisation. Our night-time illumination is even visible from space. “His sense of commitment comes from the heart. He doesn’t just read from a script. It’s his own conviction.”

Philippe Schoonejans of the European Space Agency ESA particularly admires Kuipers for pulling off a successful ISS rendezvous for a commercially produced, unmanned spacecraft, the Dragon. Kuipers brought the spacecraft in safely using a robot arm, a manoeuvre he had practised for weeks.

Schoonejans sees this as a promising development for the future: “It shows that flights of this kind can be carried out on a commercial basis, without government intervention. That’s particularly important for the Americans.”

The US is working on a successor to the Space Shuttle, which has now gone into retirement. In the meantime, ISS crew are travelling back and forth in a Russian Soyuz. With a few adjustments, the Dragon will be able to carry not only cargo but also a maximum of seven people. That would make the Americans less dependent on the Russians.

Although Kuipers’ voyage has been a success in several respects, the Dutch government still plans to cut the budget for space travel by 33 million euros in 2015. Space travel is seen as an unconscionable expense in times of crisis.

“It’ll be an incredible shame if those cutbacks go ahead,” says Philippe Schoonejans of ESA. “It’ll put a real dent in the Netherlands’ status as a high-tech nation. And it will also jeopardise jobs for researchers and assignments for Dutch technology companies.”

But at this moment in time, André Kuipers has other things on his mind. After his landing in Kazakhstan, he will first fly to Houston (US) for a debriefing and then he’ll finally be able to go on holiday with his family. On 30 August he will receive a hero’s welcome on the boulevard in Noordwijk.

But for the time being, Hans van der Lande of Space Expo offers a word of advice: “Before you leave, make sure you go to the ISS viewing platform one last time and take a good long look around. Take the time to say a proper goodbye.”

Our thanks to Juergen, DL4KE for spotting this item

PY4MAB – Thu, 2012 – 07 – 05 13:05

André Kuipers: bringing space a little closer to home

Here are about 36 pictures I took at the heroes welcome of André Kuipers in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.
I was fortunate to attend this event an had the chance to shake hands with André Kuipers himself and swiftly asked him his opinion about amateur radio aboard the ISS.
His answer was "Always a pleasure to speak with a Dutch HAM-radio operator" (probably because he rarely heard spoken words in Dutch while on orbit)

André Berends PE1PQX

Submitted by PE1PQX on Thu, 2012-09-06 05:52.

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