“Wisdom is to have dreams big enough not to lose sight when we pursue them” is Dr. Raphaël Liégeois’ favourite quote from Oscar Wilde. Biomedical engineer, physicist, neuroscientist, aviation enthusiast, and now career astronaut, Raphaël could not demonstrate in a more stellar way how pursuing big dreams can turn them into reality.

On 23 November 2022, the European Space Agency (ESA) has chosen 17 new astronaut candidates from more than 22 500 applicants from across its Member States. In this new 2022 class of ESA astronauts, Raphaël Liégeois was chosen as one of the five career astronauts, who will be joining the ESA full-time in April 2023 to start their training. Eleven are members of an astronaut reserve and one astronaut with a disability.

When the news reached the Medical Image Processing Lab (MIPLAB), not earlier than the official event due to a strict embargo, it was first received with astonishment and next with ecstatic moments. Prof. Dimitri Van De Ville, head of MIPLAB and CIBM SP EPFL UNIGE Section at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Université de Genève (UNIGE), recalls lab members screaming at their desk and then invading his office to ask for validation. Dimitri comments: “the selection of Raphaël is such an exceptional event that it was simply unbelievable! We all know him as an amazing colleague and friend in terms of achievements and projects, but going to space beats all the records!”

Asked whether this was always a dream, Raphaël recalls “I grew up reading about Tintin going to the moon, and when I see and read about that, it brings back a lot of incredible feelings of adventure.” He also sees a unique opportunity: “Science is one key tool that we can leverage to address the challenges that humanity today is facing as a whole.” At the same time, he is down-to-earth, under his motto “eyes on the stars, but keeping my feet on the ground” – at least for now- and has resumed his research activities on brain dynamics in the context of the NCCR Evolving Language. He will remain Research and Teaching Fellow at the University of Geneva until February 2023. Next, he will embark in a 12-month astronaut training at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, where he and the other career astronauts will prepare for their new life. They will be trained to the highest level of standards as specified by the International Space Station partners.

We wish Raphaël a very successful career as an astronaut, and are looking forward to following his first lift-off to space. In the meantime, keep dreaming big.

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