Astronaut Wubbo Ockels, the first Dutch citizen to travel into space, died Sunday of kidney cancer. He was 68.

"Holland not only loses its first astronaut in space but also a pioneer in innovative and sustainable thinking," said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in remarks published by the daily Volkskrant.

Besides being an astronaut, Ockels was a professor, pilot and scientist, and he had also worked for the Technical University in Delft.

During a visit to Madrid in 2003, he said in an interview with Efe that his space career began after he answered an advertisement in the European Space Agency press calling for crew members for future space missions.

"I had just finished, in 1977, a doctorate in Nuclear Physics. I saw the ad, in which they were offering three astronaut spots, and 2,000 candidates answered. After a year of testing, I (was selected), although it took several years for me to travel into space," Ockels said.

The moment came on Oct. 30, 1985, when NASA, using the space shuttle Challenger, put the European Spacelab into orbit. EFE