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“Interview with René Demets,” Interview by Brian Harvey
Published in Quest Volume: 30 #2 (2023)


The European Space Agency (ESA) began a space biology program in the 1980s on the US Space Shuttle, on sounding rockets and on the Soviet/Russian Bion and Foton programs. In the last case, it comprised Bion-8 (1987), 9 (1989), and 10 (1992), derived from Soviet-period automated Vostok cabins, which offered up to two weeks of microgravity; and similar Foton cabins, originally designed for materials processing tests, Foton-7 to 12 (1991-1999) and Foton-M1-3 (2002-2007). Two were lost, Foton-10 on landing and M1 on launch. The ESA program included an automated incubator for cell culture experiments (Biobox), and a small external container (Biopan, an adaptation of the Russian KNA) that could be exposed to open space, the lid closing before reentry. The research attracted international attention when it was found that lifeforms could survive in open space but this was the most headline-grabbing part of a substantial program that advanced the frontiers of space biology. ESA left the Bion program in 1993 after Bion-10 and the Foton program in 2008, arguably prematurely. This program is now buried in the archives, files, photographs, and memories of what was an important contribution to space science.

One of those longest involved in this research was Dutch biologist, René Demets, who worked for ESA at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) from 1990 to his retirement in 2020. Brian Harvey interviewed Demets in Katwijk, Netherlands, on 23 September 2022.


Demets, René. “Interview with René Demets.” Interview with Brian Harvey. Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly 30, no. 2 (2023): 52-56.

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More Information

  • Archive ID # G301300
  • Format: Document (PDF)
  • Author/Creator:
  • Publication Year: 2023
  • Publisher: Quest
  • Copyright Status: Copyrighted
  • Copyright Holder: SPACE 3.0
  • Language: English
  • Number of Pages: 5
  • Type: Oral History/Interview
  • Subject:
  • Collection: Quest
  • Availability: Digital Download

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