ISS astronauts meet Columbus ground controllers

Expedition 27 crew with Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight, at Columbus Control Centre
8 October 2010

ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli and the Expedition 27 crew are meeting ground personnel at ESA's Columbus Control Centre today. The pre-launch visit will help to cement the ties between astronauts in orbit and those on the ground who support them.

For International Space Station (ISS) crews in orbit, the voice at the other end of the radio link can be unfamiliar, making smooth communication a challenge. It's beneficial, therefore, for the astronauts and mission personnel on the ground to meet in person before launch, to put a live, human face to a name and a picture.

"It is the human aspect of spaceflight - you simply want to know your counterparts on the ground - and it is important for smooth operations to build a team," says ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli.

The three members of Expedition 27, including Nespoli, are at Columbus Control Centre (Col-CC), near Munich, today, to establish ties with ground personnel and receive briefings on Col-CC operations. Together with the three astronauts of Expedition 26, Expedition 27 – scheduled to fly to the Station in mid-December on Soyuz 25S – will remain onboard for six months.

MagISStra mission logo

"In the last two and a half years the call sign 'Munich' has become very familiar to all ISS crews in space and in training," says Reinhold Ewald, an ESA astronaut himself and now ESA Mission Integration Operations division head at Col-CC.

"Similar to the visits that they pay to the Moscow and Houston control centres, Col-CC has become a standard crew stop-over before they leave for the launch campaign."

The visit also allows astronauts and Columbus controllers to discuss practical, day-to-day issues, and confirm mutual understanding of flight control terminology and daily procedures.

"Columbus Control Centre takes part in the daily planning conference, a voice conference held every morning and evening, to discuss work progress and identify any problems," says Roland Luettgens, ESA Mission Director at Col-CC.

ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli at Columbus Control Centre

"We also answer any questions from the crew, so that the astronauts are fully supported throughout their shifts," and adds "Meeting the crew here at COL-CC is an important step in the preparation of the mission. It is so important because both the controllers on the ground and the crew up in Space have to now each other personally as they are in permanent contact throughout the mission."

The task of speaking with the astronauts is handled by ESA's Eurocom team, located at Col-CC and at ESA's European Astronaut Centre (EAC) near Cologne, Germany. The Eurocom talks to any ISS crewmember for any topic related to the Columbus laboratory module.

"The Eurocom must put him or herself into the astronauts' shoes and figure out what the astronauts need and anticipate what they might require in a specific situation," says Hervé Stevenin, the Eurocom Team Lead at EAC.

"All the Eurocoms have worked closely with ESA astronauts. It's a strong asset for the astronauts to be able to communicate with someone that they know and trust from their training at EAC."

Nespoli's six-month mission will see numerous periods of intense activity, including the docking of ESA's ATV-2 and Japan's HTV cargo vessels, as well as the scientific programme in the Columbus science module.

Col-CC is operated by a joint EADS/DLR industrial team under ESA supervision. It is located at the DLR German Aerospace Center facility in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, and has been in continuous operation since the launch and docking of the Columbus module in 2008.

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