18 September 2011
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst has been assigned to fly to the International Space Station on a 6-month mission in 2014, serving as a flight engineer for Expeditions 40 and 41.
Alexander is the second of the new group of European astronauts, which graduated last November, to be assigned to a mission.
He will be launched aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in May 2014, returning to Earth in November 2014.
Today is an ideal day for the announcement: the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne has been buzzing with activity as around 100 000 visitors mingle on German Aerospace Day.
After conquering remote mountains and working in Antarctica, the 35year-old geophysicist and volcanologist will become the third German to visit the Station.
He will be accompanied by Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin, as Soyuz commander, and NASA astronaut G. Reid Wiseman.
Cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and NASA astronaut Steven Swanson will also share part of the mission with Alexander as members of Expeditions 39 and 40.
Alexander’s flight will be the sixth long-duration mission for an ESA astronaut.
“ESA Member States have decided to extend their support to the exploitation of the International Space Station up to 2020,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA’s Director for Human Spaceflight and Operations.
“The appointment of the new group of European astronauts to long-duration missions reflects the commitment of Member States.
“Alexander Gerst will pursue the European goals in a long fruitful German tradition.
“He will now get ready for the challenges ahead in 2014 ... and beyond.”
Alexander says, “It is a great honour for me to get the chance to contribute to the long tradition of European and German space flight.
“This mission will be a positive challenge not only for me but for all the dedicated people working at ESA and the national space agencies, who make spaceflight possible through their passion and fascination.
“I am looking forward to flying to space on the shoulders of this gigantic team, to the boundaries of our capabilities and knowledge in order to venture out a little further and to shine some more light into the darkness.
“And just as much I am looking forward to returning to Earth six months later with a wide variety of important scientific knowledge and a new perspective on our planet, which I will then gladly share with you.”
Alexander has completed pre-assignment training in Russia, the US and Canada.
Based at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, he will spend much of his time training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and at Star City, Moscow.
The next European to venture into space will be André Kuipers, who will be launched to the Station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft not later than 26 December, according to the latest tentative manifest.
Next up will be Luca Parmitano, the first to be assigned from the new group of ESA astronauts. His mission, a flight opportunity provided by the Italian space agency, is planned to begin in May 2013.
All three ESA astronauts will stay aboard the Space Station for almost six months and work as flight engineers. Their responsibilities will include Station maintenance and scientific research, and possibly robotics and spacewalking activities.
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