The delicate mission of Daniel Neuenschwander, new head of European manned spaceflight

2023-09-03 19:43:17

The Fribourgeois Daniel Neuenschwander became this summer the director of manned flights of the European Space Agency (ESA). A position all the more prestigious as Europe aims to launch its own manned rocket.

On August 26, 2023, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Dane Andreas Mogensen became the first European astronaut to pilot a space vehicle, a Crew Dragon Endurance capsule carried by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was also the first time a non-American had piloted an American space vehicle.

>> Read about it: NASA and SpaceX are sending a crew to the International Space Station

But this day was also a great first for a Swiss. Newly appointed head of manned spaceflight at ESADaniel Neuenschwander was in the front row to watch the take-off, which he would not have wanted to miss under any circumstances.

Ambitious European program

“After seven years in the direction of the launchers, becoming the head of manned and robotic exploration is first of all very inspiring, because we are opening up to the world. And the scientific dimension becomes much more important”, he explained to the cameras at 7:30 p.m., which followed him during the day.

“I am fascinated by space, by this notion of exploration […] to always work at the limit of what is feasible, also on a human level”, he confided again.

But while the ESA wants to enter the big leagues, in particular by having its own manned rocket, the mission of the 48-year-old Fribourgeois is also political. In the United States, Daniel Neuenschwander must defend the ambitious European program with partners such as NASA and SpaceX.

An “addictive” job

“I expect our good relationship to continue. I hope that we can develop this mutual trust”, abounds Nicole Jordan, head of the Space Flight Office at NASA, in the 7:30 p.m. report.

If the Crew-7 mission of August 26 was a success, the work of Daniel Neuenschwander has only just begun. And when taking stock of his first two months in office, the Swiss ventures into the sporting metaphor: “My new job? It’s like surfing! My wife offered me a lesson three years ago and I discovered a super addictive sport. You take your head underwater, you come out, and you keep going!”

Reporting: Olivier Dessibourg

Adaptation web: yup

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