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Swiss astronaut sidelined by European Space Agency

Nicollier has four space missions under his belt. www.nasa.gov

Claude Nicollier, Switzerland's one and only astronaut, has seen his participation in a space shuttle mission vetoed by his European bosses.

This content was published on January 29, 2002 - 08:38

NASA, the American space agency, had offered Nicollier a ride later this year to coordinate a space walk. The 57-year-old, who has four missions under his belt, is said to be the only European astronaut with the necessary experience to carry out this type of task.

However, the European Space Agency (ESA), which employs Nicollier, has turned down the American request.

"ESA can only send on average one astronaut per year on a shuttle mission," said Nicollier in an interview with the French-language daily, Le Matin. "The agency prefers to keep the place for another astronaut at a later date."

Nicollier is blaming the decision on politics within ESA. "The bigger backers of the agency are pushing to get their representatives onboard the shuttle," he said.

"France, Italy and Germany make up three quarters of the 16 members of the astronaut corps. When I began in 1978, there were just three of us: a German, a Dutchman and myself."

Chances slim

Nicollier added that his chances of joining another NASA flight were looking slim. But he is still pursuing his training at the Johnson space centre in Houston, Texas, and claims he is mentally and physically prepared to head into space again.

"If I fly again, it won't be before 2004 or 2005," he said. "But I wouldn't be the oldest astronaut to have taken part in a mission."

While Nicollier is not ruling out another space flight, he has already begun looking ahead to the future where he sees himself playing an active role in the planned space research department at Lausanne's Federal Institute of Technology.

Besides education, Nicollier says there might also be a position for him in the space industry. "I wouldn't mind being an advisor or a consultant," he said. "Even if I haven't done any research and development, I would like to offer my experience to Switzerland."

No one at ESA was available for comment.

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