Skip to main content

Digit-04: A plunge into BIRA-IASB history

Research Topic Chapter
News flash intro
As part of the federal Digit-04 project, the communication department is digitizing all visual material inherited from the generations of scientists that have worked at the Institute since its earliest days. Over 4100 photographs and slides of scientific missions and instruments of the past - ranging from the 1960’s until the early 2000’s - have been recovered, catalogued and scanned in order to safeguard both the scientific and human heritage from loss or degradation, and with the aim to make it available to the public in the future.
Body text

Belgian scientific and cultural heritage

The DIGIT-04 programme is a project of the Belgian Science Policy (BELSPO) that aims to support the digitization of the considerable heritage patrimony of Belgium, which resides in the federal museums, libraries, research institutes and archives. This collection of artworks, natural science artifacts, historical photographs and documents, outdated carriers of data and audio-visual material, etc. are vulnerable to the passing of time or the evolution of technology. Digitization is the most effective way to ensure that the precious knowledge they contain and history they represent is never lost.

Jef Craenen Cavente experiment balloon
Item 3265: For many decades, the scientists and engineers of BIRA-IASB made atmospheric measurements with stratospheric balloons, using a CNES launch site in Aire-sur-l'Adour, France. The photograph shows former BIRA-IASB employee Jozef ‘Jef’ Craenen with the CAVENTE experiment (for "camera, wind, temperature" in French). During this experiment, photographic observations of the aerosol layers in the stratosphere were carried out. The experiment was launched a dozen times between May 1980 and October 1986, sometimes in combination with other measuring instruments.

Digital copies of the artifacts also prevent the originals from being handled when used for research or other purposes. Furthermore, a digital database will allow for easy access by researchers both inside and outside Belgium, as well as the interested public.

Preserving the history of space science

At the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, the collection of artifacts is composed of photographs and videos in various formats, data and analyses of space missions of the past, publications and science communication about these missions, as well as parts, flight and test models of instruments used in space missions or stratospheric balloon flights.

stratospheric balloon Aire-sur-l-adour
Item 3956: A stratospheric balloon with auxiliary balloons and payload lifting off in Aire-sur-l’Adour (1998). Stratospheric balloons allow for in-situ (direct) measurements of the atmosphere up until 50 km altitude.

In 2019 and 2020, over 4100 photographs and projector slides have been collected and carefully catalogued and digitized. They contain both scientific data collected by our predecessors and pictures recording the many scientific missions and conferences that BIRA-IASB has undertaken in Europe, the United States and Russia since the establishment of the institute by Marcel Nicolet in 1964.


Figure 2 body text
Figure 2 caption (legend)
Item 4245: Open doors event at the Space Pole in Uccle (Royal Observatory of Belgium, Royal Meteorological Institute, Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy) in the 1980’s.
Figure 3 body text
Figure 3 caption (legend)
Item 3171: Former BIRA-IASB employee Gaston Kockarts (left, in front of the screen) and the 017 team in the control room at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for the Spacelab 1 mission. This was the first Spacelab laboratory in orbit, launched on board the Columbia Space Shuttle in November 1983. Spacelab 1 was a joint NASA/ESA mission, meant to demonstrate the ability to conduct advanced scientific research in space, paving the way for the ISS.
Figure 4 body text
Figure 4 caption (legend)
Item 3271: Bob Chesson (ESA) and former BIRA-IASB employee Dirk Frimout as ESA Operators at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, for the Spacelab 1 flight (November 1983).
Publication date