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Science & Exploration

N° 45–1998: ESA's first Spanish astronaut rides into orbit alongside space pioneer

29 October 1998

The Space Shuttle Discovery performed a perfect lift-off today (Thursday 29 October 1998), carrying ESA astronaut Pedro Duque among its international crew, which includes John Glenn, making his return to space 36 years after he became the first American to orbit the Earth.

Glenn is not the only member of this crew to go into the record books. Duque does too, as the first Spaniard to travel into space. Born in March 1963, over a year after John Glenn's epic flight, he's also the youngest member of the crew.

Discovery lifted off from pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, 19 minutes after the 2 ( hour launch window opened at 20:00 Central European Time (14:00 EST - Florida time) Duque was cheered on his way by thousands of spectators at the launch site, including his wife and three young children. During the launch phase, Duque monitored the overall performance of Discovery and its systems, looking out for any anomalies or malfunctions.

On reaching orbit, his responsibilities included working with the team that deployed the communications antennas and opening Discovery's payload bay doors to let surplus heat out of the Shuttle into space. He also switched on systems for the Spacehab science module in the payload bay.

Duque's tasks during the nine-day flight will include supervising experiments on the five ESA science facilities being used to study the effects of weightlessness on various materials and substances.

"The ESA facilities are advanced and largely automatic, so it is more a question of periodic checks and ensuring that data is routed to the correct place," said Duque. "This kind of operation is typical of what work will be like on the International Space Station, where crew time will be at a premium."

Although no spacewalks are scheduled for STS-95, Duque is one of two crew members specially trained to work outside the orbiter should an emergency arise. He may be called upon to close the payload doors manually before re-entry and landing or if there are problems in retrieving the sun-observing Spartan satellite at the end of its two days of free flight in space.

Duque is also the mission's laptop troubleshooter. He will look after a record number of 19 laptop computers being carried by Discovery to help run the Shuttle's systems and the experiments. The mission is scheduled to last 8 days, 22 hours and 4 minutes, landing at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on 7 November at 18:04 Central European Time (1204 EST - Florida time).

For further information, see the ESA web page at

During the mission, contact:
31 Oct-07 Nov ESA Press Desk at Johnson Space Center, Houston Tel: (281) 218-6836, Fax: (281) 218-6420
02-07 Nov Press Desk at ESA Villafranca, Madrid Tel: (34) 91 813 12.11 - Fax: (34) 91 813 12.12