ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter and crew mates report on Astrolab mission
Thomas Reiter and crew mates from the USA and Russia visited ESOC today to report highlights of the hugely successful 2006 Astrolab mission on the International Space Station. The five astronauts also held a roundtable discussion examining the future of human space exploration to the Moon and to Mars.
The German-born Reiter was accompanied by ISS Expedition 13 and 14 crew mates Jeffrey Williams and Michael Lopez-Alegria, from NASA, and Pavel Vinogradov and Michail Tyurin, from Russia. Reiter's 171-day Astrolab mission ran from July to December 2006, during which he conducted a full programme of European scientific experiments and served as ISS flight engineer.
Gaele Winters, ESA’s Director of Operations and Infrastructure, welcomed the five astronauts, who went on stage before an enthusiastic crowd of ESA staff, contractors, guests and media.
ESA operations expertise throughout Europe
In his remarks, Winters discussed challenges for ESA mission operations in Europe, mentioning the role of ESOC in Darmstadt together with those of the Columbus Control Centre in Operpfaffenhofen and the ATV Control Centre in Toulouse, both of which control ESA missions. "Astrolab demonstrated that our integrated operations team of ESA and DLR, the German Aerospace Center, is working well," he said.
Europe's Columbus laboratory is due to be launched to the ISS in late 2007.
The Hessen regional minister for economy, Mr Alois Rhiel, was also present to congratulate all the astronauts and emphasise the significance of ESOC, ESA's control centre, which has been located in Darmstadt since 1967.
Hessen is also the birthplace of Reiter, who grew up just a few kilometres north of Darmstadt in Frankfurt am Main.
Thomas Reiter and his colleagues provided a video presentation on the highlights of the 6-month Astrolab mission on the ISS and on activities during ISS Expeditions 13 and 14.
Roundtable discussion: Where next in space?
Afterwards, the five astronauts were joined by Bob Chesson, ESA's manager of Human Spaceflight and Exploration Operations, for a lively roundtable discussion on the question: "When will humans return to the Moon – and proceed to Mars?"
"Autonomous operation needed for future Mars missions must be trained somewhere, it needs to be experienced somewhere, and the Moon is the best environment we have in our immediate vicinity to do that. Also, for operations on the surface of another planet, a lot of technologies are needed - a lot of scientific expertise. I think the Moon is a good basis for preparing us for continuing our endeavours in space," said Reiter.