June 3, 2009

Frank De Winne Urges Europeans To Vote

Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne called in from space on Wednesday, urging Europeans to head to the polls for this week's EU elections.

"Hi, I'm Frank De Winne: a European citizen and an astronaut from the European Space Agency and I'm in space right now. Europe looks united and great from up here!" he said in a message relayed by the European institutions.

De Winne said he was voting by proxy since he will still be in space during the election.

"I have arranged to vote by proxy, so I won't miss out on the next European elections while I'm up here."

De Winne will become the European commander of the International Space Station (ISS) in October before returning to Earth in November.

"The fact that I will become the European commander of the International Space Station is a perfect example of what Europeans can achieve when they all work together," he said.

The elections are important, he said, "because Europe improves so many parts of our daily lives...from environmental protection to consumer rights, from transport safety to the free movement of people, Europe is about the well-being of its citizens".

The message, the first-ever election-themed message sent from space by a European astronaut, was a joint initiative by the European Space Agency, the European Parliament and De Winne himself.  It comes amid concern that voter apathy will lead to a low turnout at the trans-European polls, which will take place from Thursday through Sunday throughout the 27-nation European Union.

De Winne and two counterparts from Russia and Canada arrived at the ISS last Friday in a Russian space capsule.  The docking marks the first time the ISS will host a permanent crew of six, and is also the first time that astronauts from all five ISS partners "“ Russia, the U.S., Europe, Japan and Canada -- will be on board simultaneously.

Unlike previous missions, the existing 3-member ISS crew of Russian Gennady Padalka, American Michael Barratt and Japan's Koichi Wakata will remain on board the station rather than returning to Earth immediately.

De Winne will take over as station commander in October when Padalka returns to Earth.  It will be the first time a Western European has held this responsibility.

The EU parliamentary elections will be the largest trans-national polls in history, with some 375 million voters in 27 countries choosing from roughly 9,000 candidates.  Voters will select a total of 736 Euro MPs, the EU's only directly elected institution.


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