Belgian Crown Prince, HRH Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant, travelled on Wednesday to the Kazach steppes, to Star City Baikonur, where he attended the launch of the Soyuz, on a landmark mission that will double the crew of the International Space Station.
The Soyuz TMA-15 craft carrying Russian Cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk and Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne soared into the hot afternoon skies over Kazakhstan's northern steppe on a two-day journey to the orbiting station. The three will join the three crew members already on board the ISS, giving the station six permanent members for the first time.
Prince Philippe attended the very last meeting of the astronauts with the press, family and friends. He told De Winne that the whole of Belgium was with him in thoughts, and his 6-month stay at the ISS would be followed from down below. Frank De Winne, a General in the Belgian Air Force, thanked the Prince, not only for his kind words and his coming to Kazakhstan, but also for his support to space travel in general.
After that, scores of journalists, relatives and Prince Philippe, watched from a viewing stand a mile (1.5 kilometers) away, applauding as the rocket roared into the sky.
"This is very important for Belgium. De Winne represents Europe and he represents Belgium. He represents international collaboration for peaceful application of science", the Prince said.