BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian comic-strip hero Tintin helped popularize the 1950s Space Race with his iconic cartoon rocket; seven decades on from the boy reporter's "Destination Moon", his country is finally getting its own version of NASA.
The Interfederal Space Agency of Belgium (ISAB) will be set up next year, science minister Elke Sleurs said, arguing that it would help a local industry hang on to what is now a 5-percent share of the EU's 7 billion-euro a year space industry.
Challenges from the likes of rising powers India and China and changing rules for EU-wide tenders meant Belgium should pool resources to help its companies compete, she said: "If we just keep the status quo, we risk losing out on space contracts."
About 60 firms in the local sector include the 96-year-old SABCA, which has worked on Europe's Ariane rocket program.
Images from Tintin space stories, starting with "Destination Moon" in 1950, have become Belgian national treasures and fed popular fascination worldwide with cosmic adventure. A single original drawing by his creator Herge from 1954's "Explorers on the Moon" sold last week in Paris for 1.55 million euros.
(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Andrew Heavens)