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Science & Exploration

N° 44–2004: ESA Astronaut on UNICEF mission to Darfur

29 July 2004

ESA astronaut Frank De Winne, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador since January 2003, and the Director General of UNICEF Belgium, Christian Wiener, will leave on 31 July for a short humanitarian mission to Darfur, Sudan. The Belgian Minister for Cooperation and Development, Armand De Decker, together with UNICEF Spain and UK representatives (Silvia Abascal Estrada, goodwill ambassador, UNICEF Spain; Elena Crego, Communications Officer, UNICEF Spain; Martin Bell, goodwill ambassador, UNICEF UK and David Bull, Executive Director, UNICEF UK) will be part of the delegation.


Their mission consists in bringing support to the UNICEF teams on site, attracting public attention to a disastrous situation in which the population is struggling to survive, and fostering greater solidarity, particularly for the children of Darfur.


For several months this region, located in the west of Sudan, has been prey to a catastrophic humanitarian situation, with militias raiding and plundering the black population, villages set on fire and harvests and cattle stolen or destroyed. More than a million people have been forced to seek precarious shelter in emergency camps set up in the bush.

According to estimates from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over a million people have fled from the Darfur region and 150,000 from neighbouring Chad. Over 150 refugees camps have been spotted, spread over an area larger than France. Each day, more refugees arrive from regions which humanitarian agencies have not yet managed to reach.

UNICEF action

Last April, UNICEF launched an emergency 9-month plan. The plan covers emergency health treatment, therapeutic paediatric nutrition, water and water treatment, education, protection and distribution of survival equipment, in particular for children.

UNICEF has deployed 47 people to the Darfur region. Ten more should join them in a while to strengthen coordination of water supplies, nutrition, education and the protection of children.

UNICEF Belgium is launching an appeal in support of the children of the Darfur region. Donations can be made by postal order 000-0000055-55 mentioning "SOS Darfour" or directly online at


Note for the media:

1. The UNICEF mission will leave Brussels on Saturday 31 July at 10:50 hours on flight LH 4573 to Frankfurt. There will be photo and interview opportunities as of 08:30 (please indicate your interest).

2. The mission will be back in Belgium on Thursday 4 August at 10:00 hours on flight LH 4272. Interviews will be possible at a press conference to be held the same day at 15:00 hours at the Offices of UNICEF Belgium (Avenue des Arts 20, 1000 Bruxelles). Images and photos of the mission will be available for the media.

3. The first ESA astronaut from Belgium to visit the International Space Station was launched into space along with two Russian crew members on board a Soyuz capsule on 30 October 2002 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for an 11-day scientific mission.

Frank De Winne, a former Belgian Air Force pilot and now a member of ESA’s 14-strong astronaut corps, followed in the footsteps of a series of European astronauts who have already visited and worked on board the Space Station. A prime task of the 11-day Odissea mission was to replace the Soyuz vehicle attached to the Space Station with the new spacecraft, ensuring that the craft needed to evacuate the Station’s resident crew in an emergency would always be in top condition.

De Winne played his part as a Soyuz Flight Engineer alongside Soyuz Mission Commander Sergei Zaletin and Soyuz Flight Engineer Yuri Valentinovich Lonchakov.

De Winne, whose flight was sponsored by the Belgian Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs (OSTC), is the fourth European astronaut to visit the International Space Station and the first European astronaut to work in both the Russian and American segments of the Space Station. It was during this flight that he was asked to become a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF Belgium.

For more information on the UNICEF mission:

Yves Willemot, UNICEF Belgium

Tel. + 32 (0)

Mob. +32 0475.43.24.27

For more information on ESA: Franco Bonacina, ESA Media Relations Division

Tel: + 33(0)

Fax. + 33(0)


For further information:

ESA Media Relations Division

Tel: +33(0)

Fax: +33(0)