Did you know that the Dutch have been to space?

Did you know that the Dutch have been to space?

Yes, it’s true; a few Dutch people have seen the big ball we call home from outer space. To date, three Dutch people have travelled beyond our atmosphere, the last of which went into space in 2011.

Three Dutch-born space explorers

So far, three Dutch-born astronauts have made their way to space, namely, Lodewijk van den Berg, Wubbo Ockels and André Kuipers.

Lodewijk van den Berg

Although Lodewijk is Dutch-born, when he went into space he was no longer a Dutch citizen, having had to give up his original citizenship to become a naturalised US citizen.

Lodewijk van den Berg was the first Dutch-born astronaut of the three to set foot in space. Born in 1932, Van den Berg was launched into space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985 on April 29. On his mission, STS-51B, he fulfilled the role of payload specialist and carried out several experiments on crystals during the seven days that the expedition lasted.

After space, Van den Berg continued to work on crystal growth experiments and became the head of materials science at EG&G in California. He later moved and became a chief scientist at Constellation Technology Corporation in Florida. At the age of 72, he was still working up to 40 hours a week growing crystals.

The crystals in question are not your average amethyst; they are Mercuric Iodide crystals, used to detect nuclear radiation. They can be applied in the medical and defence field. Van den Berg had a main belt asteroid named after him in 2007, first observed from Leiden Observatory. The object’s name is 11430 Lodewijkberg.

Wubbo Ockels

Wubbo Ockels, born in 1946, was the second Dutch-born astronaut, but first official Dutch citizen, to head on up to space. He shot into space in 1985 on the Space Shuttle Challenger only a little more than six months after Van den Berg.

The mission was called STS-61A and Ockels acted as a payload specialist, staying in space for seven days. By the time the mission had concluded, he had travelled 2,5 million miles in 110 Earth orbits.

A small planetoid has been after Wubbo Ockels by the International Astronomical Union: its full name is 9496 Ockels, and it orbits the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. After his trip to space, Ockels had an impressive career, working as a professor of aerospace engineering at Delft University, at first part-time and later being promoted to a full-time professor.

He is considered to be one of the founders of Airborne Wind Energy and also proposed the development of a Superbus, a project which public transport company Connexxion invested in. Ockels passed away from cancer complications in the May of 2014.

André Kuipers

The latest Dutch-born astronaut to travel not once, but twice, into space is André Kuipers, born in 1958 in Amsterdam. Kuipers travelled into space in 2004 for his first mission (DELTA), where he served as a flight engineer. Unlike the other two Dutch astronauts, Kuiper rocketed into space on a Soyuz Spacecraft for an 11-day trip to the International Space Station.

One trip to space wasn’t enough for Kuipers and he was launched into space again in 2011, this time for 193 days. At the time, this second mission (Expeditions 30 and 31) was the longest European space flight to date! On his second mission, Kuipers also fulfilled the role of flight engineer.

Since his space missions, Kuipers has become a speaker, talking about topics such as Space travel, technology and innovation, sustainability, motivation and inspiration, medical aspects and energy and the future.

In addition to speaking, he is also an ambassador for organisations dedicated to biodiversity and sustainability such as: World Wide Fund for Nature, Red Cross Princess Margriet Fund, Justdiggit and the NatuurWijs Foundation. He is also an ambassador for several other organisations.  

Would you travel to space?

So, there you have it, all the Dutchies who have travelled to space – pretty impressive if you ask us. Space wasn’t a stopping point for these astronauts either, as after their missions they have gone on to lead interesting lives, innovating and advocating for a better tomorrow.

If you had the chance, would you go to space? Let us know in the comments below!

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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