Human spaceflight

ESA started astronaut training back in 1978, when three astronauts were selected for the first Spacelab mission in 1983.

Astronauts from ESA Member States have worked onboard the Russian space stations Salyut 6 (two missions), Salyut 7 (one mission) and Mir (12 missions), and onboard the International Space Station (11 missions to date). Europe’s Astronaut Corps currently has eight members and is supported by a team of ground operators and instructors, based in the European training, control and user centres.

ESA plays an important role in the development of space infrastructure through its participation in International Space Station (ISS) assembly and utilisation. ESA implements research programmes on the ISS, US Shuttle, Russian Foton satellites, European sounding rockets, parabolic flights and drop towers. In February 2008, the science capabilities of the ISS were significantly enhanced by the arrival of the European laboratory, Columbus.

Cooperation with Russia

Thomas Reiter and Expedition 14 crew onboard ISS

Cooperation with Russia in human spaceflight began in 1989 with small study contracts and ESA experiments performed onboard the Mir station. It was continued with the flights of ESA astronauts to the Mir station in 1994 (Ulf Merbold), 1995 (Thomas Reiter), 1997 (Reinhold Ewald) and later by six short stays onboard the ISS as visiting crewmembers, as well as by Thomas Reiter’s six-month Astrolab mission.

On 27 May 2009, ESA astronaut Frank De Winne will travel to the ISS onboard a Soyuz spacecraft. From that moment on, the ISS will be manned by a crew of six. Frank De Winne will become the first European commander of the station. His tour of duty will last roughly six months.

The ISS program development has given substantial momentum to the cooperation between ESA and Russia in human spaceflight. Onboard computers of European design were installed in 2000 on the Zvezda Service Module, the first module of the station’s Russian Segment.

ATV Jules Verne docked to the ISS

On ESA’s ‘Jules Verne’ Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), Russian subsystems were used and Russia provided operational support during the ATV maiden flight in 2008. This cooperation will be continued for future ATV missions.

The European Robotic Arm (ERA) – another contribution by ESA to the ISS programme – will be launched on the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module, not earlier than at the end of 2011.

Last update: 12 May 2009

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