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Life Sciences

14:30 - 16:30

Why is it commonly said that astronauts get older in space? Why do they need support on their return to Earth? What still needs to be done before being able to send a crew to Mars and bring them back safely?


This session will address these questions by explaining how physiology is affected by space conditions such as microgravity and radiations.


The challenge of designing a bioregenerative life-support system for deep space exploration missions will also be discussed via the example of the European project MELiSSA. All these topics are extensively studied in Belgium and are expected to have major applications on Earth.


Introduction of the session

Frank de Winne, Head of the European Astronaut Centre, ESA


What happens to the human body in microgravity?

Floris Wuyts, Head of the Center of Equilibrium & Aerospace, UAntwerpen


Under the ray gun: health effects of cosmic radiation

Sarah Baatout, Head of Radiobiology Unit, SCK•CEN


Life in a closed-loop environment: ecological applications – MELiSSA Project

Natalie Leys, Bioenginner, Microbiologist & Space Researcher, SCK•CEN

Benedikt Sas, Professor, UGent


Q&A and Panel discussion


Frank de Winne

Frank De Winne holds a master’s degree in telecommunications and civil engineering (1984) and is a graduate from Empire Test Pilot school (1992). He also commanded the BAF 349 Squadron and  the Deployable Air Task Force during operations Allied Force in 1999.

In 2002 he flew his first 10 day mission to the ISS. In 2009, Frank flew a six months mission to the ISS, during which Frank became the first European Commander of the ISS.

Currently, Frank is the head of the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne.

​Head of the European Astronaut Center, ESA

Floris Wuyts

Floris Wuyts got his PhD in Physics in 1991 and is currently full professor at the University of Antwerp, and teaches at the University of Ghent and King’s College in London as well. For the past 2 decades he is the head of a research lab (AUREA) that studies the human vestibular system. He is Principal Investigator of 2 large projects of the European Space Agency (ESA) concerning the evaluation of cosmonauts before and after spaceflight in the International Space Station (ISS) with respect of their physiological function and brain neuroplasticity. Already 40 cosmonauts have been tested in his lab in Star City near Moscow, Russia, to investigate their vestibular system. He and his team were one of the first to uncover the link between the autonomous system and the vestibular system in humans, and recently they did pioneering research on the effect of microgravity on the human brain, using advanced MRI methods.

Head of the Center of Equilibrium & Aerospace, UAntwerpen

Sarah Baatout

Sarah Baatout is head of the radiobiology unit at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK•CEN) Mol, Belgium. The unit evaluates the potential risks of ionizing radiation on health and provides the scientific background for occupational, accidental, medical or space radiation exposure allowing a more accurate radiation risk assessment. The work is performed in close collaboration with the European Commission, European Space Agency, Belgian & European Universities, hospitals & research institutes. Besides, S. Baatout is guest-professor at Ghent University and maître de conférence at the University of Namur. She is also member of the Belgian delegation at UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) and of the High Council for Health. In 2018, she has received the “BeSpace personality of the year” award and was recognized by Femmes d’Aujourdhui as one of the “85 women that make Belgium move”.

Head of Radiobiology Unit, SCK•CEN

Natalie Leys

Dr. Ir. Natalie Leys works at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK•CEN). Natalie is leading the Microbiology Research team, and coordinates the Space Life Science program at SCK•CEN. Her team performs research in Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Biotechnology and Bioinformatics. The main research focus is the biological impact of ionizing radiation and radionuclides, and the role of microbes, in nuclear installations, in the environment, in health, and in space. Natalie performed 7 biological space flight experiments, including the first full photo-bioreactor in space.

Bioengineer, Microbiologist & Space researcher, SCK•CEN

Benedikt Sas

Benedikt Sas obtained his Ph.D. at Ghent University and ended several management courses at Vlerick (Ghent University) and Templeton (Oxford University). He has years of industrial experience with regards to R&D, Corporate Management and Business development. He started as chemistry manager at Kemin Europa NV in 1996, became an R&D director in 1998 and afterwards world-wide VP Research. From 2001 till 2008 he held the position of President of Kemin Pharma, after which he moved back to his alma mater Ghent University as a senior business developer.

He is now teaching at Ghent University several courses related to Business and Management. He also manages Food2Know, which is a Centre of Excellence for Food Science, Nutrition and Health and groups more than 35 research labs. He recently joined the Melissa advisory group for the identification and valorisation of terrestrial applications of new developed space technologies.

Professor, UGent

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