Patient astronaut slams Sweden

The man set to be Sweden's first astronaut, Christer Fuglesang, has criticised his homeland for not doing enough to get a Swede into space.

Fuglesang, who is due to blast off in December, was first designated an astronaut candidate by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 1992. He completed training in Russia in 1995, after which he completed training on US space shuttles at NASA’s facility in Houston.

This made him the first European astronaut trained to work on both Russian and American spacecraft. But so far, Fuglesang still hasn’t got into space.

The Swede had been due to blast off in summer 2003, but his flight was cancelled after the shuttle Columbia exploded and the space shuttle programme was suspended.

In an interview with news agency TT published on Monday, Fuglesang said he had been passed over.

“People who started long after me have flown before me. Astronauts who started at the same time as me have flown twice or three times already,” he pointed out.

“If I compare with what other countries have done, their politicians and national space agencies have expressed much greater interest and put much more pressure on ESA, and done much more to get their astronauts up than Sweden has. That’s a fact.”

According to Per Tegnér, director general of the Swedish National Space Board, several European countries have been prepared to pay Russia around 100 million kronor to get their astronauts into space sooner.

“For Germany and France it is easier to pay that amount, but even smaller countries like Belgium and the Netherlands have done so.”

“They’ve paid to jump the queue, but we have not wanted to take the money off our space budget,” he said.

Tegnér said that Sweden pays 20 million kronor a year to ESA’s manned space programme.

“We’ve paid our little contribution and expected that everyone else would wait in an orderly line. That’s not what happened,” he said, painting a picture of Fuglesang patiently waiting at the back of the queue in typical Swedish style.

“Christer is a master of patience, and has taken this long waiting time very well.”

It is so far unclear what Fuglesang can expect the year following his first trip into space. He told TT that he should get the chance to blast off again, “if there is a little justice in the system.”