Mon. Apr 5th, 2021
POLITICO EU Confidential: EU faces Beijing backlash — European astronauts in conversation

A weekly podcast and newsletter featuring keynote interviews, quotes, and weekend reads on the forces shaping Europe.

By Cristina Gonzalez, Andrew Gray and Paul Dallison

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Welcome to EU Confidential, bringing you the latest from our podcast and a satirical look at the week’s news.

CATCHING UP WITH …

European astronauts Thomas Pesquet and Samantha Cristoforetti

Europe’s astronauts are preparing for a second round of trips to the International Space Station, and EU Confidential caught up with two of them amid a search for the next generation of space explorers.

First off, France’s Thomas Pesquet — known for snapping shots of cities from orbit — is scheduled to launch later this month, while Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti is due to fly next year.

Pesquet said he’s finished most of the preparation for his April 22 launch from the Kennedy Space Center. That includes fitting his space suit and much of the physical work needed to prepare for the arduous trip, his second to the ISS.

“You have to be in the best shape you can be for launch … as you lose muscle mass, you lose bone mass because there’s so many muscles you don’t use just floating around,” he told POLITICO’s Joshua Posaner.

He says he’s going to be looking for shots of Machu Picchu and Montreal from the ISS this time around. Looking further ahead, he reckons a 900-day journey to Mars and back is on the cards by 2035, though he’ll be long retired by then.

“I think we’re living in a golden age of space exploration,” said Pesquet.

Moon missions and that manned trip to Mars will be down to the new recruits. The European Space Agency taking applications for its new astronaut corps until the end of May.

Cristoforetti — a former fighter pilot — is the only woman in the current cohort, and says the next generation of euronauts will be tasked with “making traveling to space more normal, commonplace.”

“There are many, many young women out there that have these qualifications, it’s matter of sending the proper message that we want the broadest possible pool of applicants,” she said.

For now, European astronauts are forced to rely on other space powers to get them into orbit. Pesquet will launch on a SpaceX rocket alongside two Americans and one Japanese astronaut.

While he hopes one day Europe might have its own human spaceflight program, in the meantime Pesquet reckons the bloc can hold its own when it comes to space science.

“Technically we’re the best,” he said. “Even better than Elon Musk. He’s a step ahead of us for now, but we could do the same if we wanted to.”

WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THIS WEEK 

China’s new bogeyman: China is turning up the heat on European politicians and businesses. Will that lead to the formation of a close anti-Beijing alliance between Europe and the United States?

DECLASSIFIED

Welcome to Declassified, a weekly column looking at the lighter side of politics.

What the Suez Canal ship captain missed: Boris Johnson’s sexploits

Some people are just lucky. The captain of that ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal, for example, might not at first glance seem to have had the best time of it during the past week, but he will at least have been too busy hiding in shame to have read about Boris Johnson’s sex life.

In what was a surprise to absolutely no one, tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri admitted a four-year affair with the British prime minister and serial philanderer, whom she nicknamed Alexander the Great, either because the PM’s real first name is Alexander or because neither man could be sure how many children he had fathered. (Johnson, as far as I can recall, has never named a city after his horse but there’s plenty of time and he does have a large parliamentary majority.) Arcuri also called Johnson a “cowardly wet noodle” — as opposed to all those heroic noodles?

Johnson apparently said one raunchy picture of Arcuri was “enough to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”

Speaking of, er, frustration, European citizens are becoming increasingly restless as governments continue with their plan to vaccinate one person per country a month (rumors that the aforementioned Suez Canal ship captain is being brought in to oversee the EU’s vaccination rollout were unconfirmed at the time of going to press).

In Brussels, police were spooked by social media posts for a massive party called “La Boum” in the Bois de la Cambre, the city’s biggest park. The party turned out to be fake — good news for the police and local residents and bad news for those whose twin passions are electronic dance music and killing their elderly relatives.

At least when the Swiss vent their frustrations at being locked down, they don’t make much noise. The small northern town of Liestal was the scene of a gathering against anti-COVID measures that attracted several thousand people and was dubbed a “Silent Protest.” Constrained by their own title, the protesters were unable to shout about their frustrations and instead held up signs such as the straight-from-a-greetings-card-but-not-a-doctor “Let love guide you, not fear” and “Vaccines kill.” Ironically, the protest would have been much smaller if the anti-vaxxers had their way and we all ignored scientific advances and simply took our chances against smallpox and polio.

CAPTION COMPETITION

“Right, no hot drinks on the desk and you get an hour for lunch. Follow those rules and I’m sure you’ll have a great internship, Emmanuel.”

Can you do better? Email [email protected] or on Twitter @pdallisonesque

Last time we gave you this photo:

Thanks for all the entries. Here’s the best from our postbag (there’s no prize except for the gift of laughter, which I think we can all agree is far more valuable than cash or booze).

“Great news, I will be the new AstraZeneca gender and climate compliance chief officer and vaccine diversity manager,” by Albrecht Rothacher

Paul Dallison is POLITICO’s slot news editor.

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