Spacefaring EU flag returns home
Mr Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Prime Minister of Sweden, which currently holds the presidency of the EU, was on Monday presented with a European flag that travelled 9 262 217 km in space aboard the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.
When Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang was launched into space on the Space Shuttle Discovery on 28 August, the crew carried a special item: an EU flag with the famous circle of golden stars on a blue background, representing solidarity and harmony between the peoples of Europe.
This flag was seen on the TV images sent from the ISS and is in the background of many of the photographs taken during Fuglesang’s mission. Having travelled 217 times around the globe, the flag returned to Earth with the STS-128 crew and is now back in Europe.
The flag was handed over to Mr Reinfeldt at a ceremony in the Rosenbad government palace in Stockholm on Monday afternoon in the presence of ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain.
“The ISS is a fantastic technological endeavour, which now will be utilised to its full potential for some 10 years,” said Mr Dordain at the ceremony. “However its most important feature is the international partnership, which has shaped, and which will be the foundation for, future space exploration.”
Discovery also carried into space the Multipurpose Logistics Module, containing a number of microgravity experiments, as the primary payload. During the mission, the crew made three spacewalks, during which Fuglesang replaced a materials processing experiment outside ESA's Columbus module and returned an empty ammonia tank assembly to the Shuttle payload bay.
STS-128 crewmembers, NASA astronauts Patrick Forrester, Kevin Ford, John Olivas and Jose Hernandez, have been travelling with Christer Fuglesang in Sweden since last Friday on the post-flight tour. This tour is an important activity after each spaceflight for communicating results with professionals, decision-makers and the general public, transferring impressions and meeting people who have been involved with the mission.
The crew returned to Houston on Tuesday after visiting industrial partner in the city of Linköping in Sweden and giving a lecture at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.