ESA title
Back to Index French German
Science & Exploration

N° 51–2003: 25 Years of Human Spaceflight in Europe

22 August 2003

2003 is a year for Europe to commemorate a number of “firsts” in human spaceflight.


25 years ago Europe made its entry into human spaceflight history when the Czecholslovakian cosmonaut Vladimir Remek took part in a first mission under the Interkosmos cooperation programme between the Soviet Union and other partner countries. He lifted off from Baikonur on 2 March 1978 on the Soyuz 28 spacecraft for a 8-day mission to the Salyut 6 space station. He was soon followed, from 27 June to 5 July 1978, by a Polish cosmonaut colleague, Miroslaw Hermaszewski on the Soyuz 30 mission. Two months later, on 26 August, German cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn, on the third manned Interkosmos mission, climbed into Soyuz 31, lifted off from Baikonur and, together with his Soviet fellow crew member Valery Bykovski, circled the Earth 141 times on a eight-day mission to the Salyut 6 space station before returning to Earth and landing safely on 3 September. The first West European astronaut to participate in a mission on a Soviet spacecraft was French astronaut Jean-Loup Chrétien of CNES, who flew on 24 June 1982 aboard Soyuz T-6 to the Salyut-7 space station.

20 years ago the Western side of Europe entered the human spaceflight arena with its own orbital laboratory, with the maiden flight of Spacelab, carried inside the cargo bay of NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia, on the 10-day STS-9/Spacelab 1 mission from 28 November to 8 December 1983 under a cooperation agreement between NASA and ESA. This was also saw the first spaceflight by a West European astronaut, and the first ever by a non-American citizen on a US spacecraft, the German ESA astronaut Ulf Merbold, who twice returned to space, on the Spacelab International Microgravity Laboratory 1 mission on US Space Shuttle flight STS-42 in January 1992 and, in the framework of the ESA-Russian Euromir 94 programme, on a Soyuz TM-20 to the Russian space station Mir from 3 September 1995 to 29 February 1996, thus becoming the first European to have flown on both a US and a Russian spacecraft.

Coincidentally, although coming from two opposite political blocks and carrying different passports at the time when they performed their historic spaceflights, the then East German cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn and West German astronaut Ulf Merbold come from the same region in the green heart of Germany, the Vogtland, halfway between Nuremberg and Leipzig. Jähn was born in Morgenröthe-Rautenkranz and Merbold in the town of Greiz.

Separated by the Iron Curtain until 1989, Jähn and Merbold later worked together on the same space programmes, first for the Russian space station Mir and then for the International Space Station.

The German Space Agency DLR, with support from the European Space Agency, is marking the 25th anniversary of the flight by Sigmund Jähn with a special event on Saturday 30 August, beginning at 11:00 h, in Markneukirchen, near the home town of Sigmund Jähn, Morgenröthe-Morgenkranz.

Under the title “Spaceflight – a Journey through Time” and in the presence of German President Johannes Rau and the German Minister for Education and Research, Edelgard Bulmahn, the Chairman of the DLR Board, Professor Sigmar Wittig, and ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, Jörg Feustel-Büechl, will welcome over 1000 invited guests to this event.

In a multi-faceted and informative 90-minute on-stage programme, which will be transmitted live via satellite TV and Internet, the event will honour Sigmund Jähn’s contribution to peaceful international cooperation in space and review the mission by Ulf Merbold on the first flight by Spacelab, which was built under ESA contract by a European industrial consortium led by the German company ERNO (today EADS Space Transportation) in Bremen and more than 20 Spacelab missions that followed, notably the German Spacelab mission D-2 ten years ago, from 26 April to 6 May 1993, with the German astronauts Hans Schlegel and Ulrich Walter. Schlegel has since joined ESA’s European Astronaut Corps based in Cologne, which is headed by Ernst Messerschmid, who together with Dutch ESA astronaut Wubbo Ockels and German DLR astronaut Reinhold Furrer took part in the first German Spacelab mission, Spacelab D-1 on STS-61 A, in 1985.

The “Journey through Time” will also take in the four missions by European astronauts to the Russian Mir station which took place in the framework of the DLR-Russian cooperation on Mir 92 and 97 and ESA-Russian cooperation on Euromir 94 and 95.

Several European and Russian astronauts and cosmonauts involved in these missions will be at Markneukirchen, including Sigmund Jähn, Eberhard Köllner (replacement crew member for Jähn on Soyuz 31) and Valery Bykovski (Soyuz 31), Ulf Merbold (Spacelab 1, Spacelab IML-1 and Euromir 94), Ernst Messerschmid (Spacelab D-1), Klaus-Dietrich Flade (Mir 92), Ulrich Walter (Spacelab D-2), Thomas Reiter and Yuri Gidzenko (Euromir 95) Reinhold Ewald, Vassily Zbliyev and Valery Korsun (Mir 97).

The event will not only honour Europe’s past achievements in European human spaceflight, but will also be taking a look at the present and future: German Education and Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, Jörg Feustel-Büechl, and DLR Chairman, Prof. Sigmar Wittig, will present the European and German views and plans for the International Space Station and Europe’s and Germany’s future role in manned space activities.

One of the highlights will be a live video link with the International Space Station, from where crew members Yuri Malenchenko from Russia and Edward Lu (NASA), who in October this year will be joined by ESA astronaut Pedro Duque during the Spanish Soyuz mission to the ISS, will speak to the audience in Markneukirchen.

The whole event will be transmitted live on the Astra satellite system and can be received by anyone in Europe who is equipped with an analog satellite receiver tuned to the following parameters: position 19.2 East, analog transponder, frequency 10.921 GHz, horizontal polarisation, stereo sound at 7.02 and 7.20 MHz. In parallel, the event is being transmitted in streaming video mode on the Internet and can be accessed from and

Transmission will start at 11:00 h and finish at 12:30 h.

Attendance at in the event is by invitation only.

For further information please contact:

ESA Media Relations Paris

Franco Bonacina

Tel.: +33 1 5369 7713, fax: 7690


DLR Press and Public Relations Cologne

Eduard Müller

Tel.: +49 2203 601 2805, fax:3249


DLR Press and Public Relations Berlin

Andreas Schütz

Tel.: +49 30 67055 130, fax: 120


Press Office Vogtland District

Kerstin Büttner

Tel.: +49 3741 392 431, fax: 292



For further information:

ESA, Media Relations Service

Tel: +33.(0)1.5369.7155

Fax: +33.(0)1.5369.7690