André Kuipers does not travel alone. There are thousands of people at space agencies and industry who worked behind the scenes to make the mission a success.
A whole team at ESA takes care of every detail of the mission on Earth and during the mission: everything from the training schedule to flowers laid at Gagarin's memorial prior to launch, realtime mission planning, science operations and post-flight tour organisation.
Hans Bolender, Head of the Astronaut Training Division
“We are probably the ‘most hated’ unit by the astronauts: for those two and half years of training, we schedule 85% of their lives.
More than 50 people supported André’s training programme during the 30 months prior to flight, always trying to integrate the demands of the ISS partners, ESA and the astronaut’s own interests.
For his second time in space, André underwent an experienced training flow. We trained him in quite a number of emergency situations, not only about launch and landing procedures, but also about depressurisation, fire events or toxic spills on the Station.
I personally enjoy developing new training concepts in a very international environment. At the European Astronaut Centre alone we have 16 different nationalities.”
Volker Damann, Head of the Crew Medical Support Office
“We have a very close and trusting relationship with André. A whole team of fitness experts, physiotherapists, sport scientists and nutritionists takes care of the astronaut’s health, from his mission assignment to his retirement. You can compare us with a football team: we have a coach, a physiotherapist, a psychologist…
Fortunately, we haven’t yet had any serious medical incident on the Space Station, but André needs to know what the first aid kits on the ISS and Soyuz look like, where he can find certain medications and what are the medical procedures he should follow, usually different from those he learnt during his medical career.
During the flight we prescribe him two hours of exercise per day to counteract significant bone loss. Once back on Earth, we will tailor his fitness programme on a very individual basis.”
MISSION DIRECTOR / Expedition 30:
“Our task on Earth is to allow the astronaut to do his job properly. Whenever there is a European astronaut onboard, ESA has high expectations. We work to make sure that André can support all the ISS and Columbus activities required during his mission.
We lay out his tasks day by day, I would even say almost hour by hour. However, it is a very dynamic process. The international partners are also involved, so we need to find a consensus. Understanding priorities is key for our job.
I come from an experience of more than 20 years in robotic missions, so I’m used to objects that don’t talk to me. I’m really very excited about the human presence onboard. I look forward to working with André Kuipers, in particular because we can interact at a completely different level, adapting, adjusting things on the run.”
MISSION DIRECTOR / Expedition 31:
“We are always in the front line at the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. Operations usually go according to plan, but sometimes unexpected events can take place during the mission. Luckily, we have only had false alarms on the Space Station so far. Fire and depressurisation alarms were activated in the past due to faulty equipment. Nearby space debris is also critical. When it comes close, the whole Station needs to be reconfigured and the astronauts have to be alerted. In extreme cases, they are told to take shelter in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
There are often other events that don’t affect the astronauts’ well being, but might lead to loss of data, communication disruptions or changes in the experiments.
I’m thankful to have such a fantastic and exciting job. We never stop learning!”
LAST STOP: RUSSIA
René Pischel, Head of the Moscow Office
“We are supporting every European mission here in Russia. We are the link between our ESA colleagues and the Russian organisations, but we also act as the liaison with NASA whenever there is a mission to the Space Station. The ESA Moscow office assists with the full range of logistics, from visa to accommodation.
I think I have gone through almost all the traditions that the Russians follow before and after a mission. And, of course, speaking Russian helps a lot to understand the ritual! They are quite superstitious. From the tea ceremony at Roscosmos to the last days of quarantine, everything follows a ritual that started 50 years ago.
It is really rewarding to see how cosmonauts and astronauts form together a big family – it makes no difference from which space agency they come. The atmosphere is just very nice.”
Hilde Stenuit, Mission Science Office
“We are the voice of the science team within ESA during the PromISSe mission. A year and a half ago, we started to select the set of experiments André will carry out.
The very busy days for us will come as soon as André gets on board. We will always be ready on console whenever André does a science experiment for ESA. Our role is to make sure that everything is going ahead as we hoped it would from a scientific perspective.
Sitting on console is the most critical part of our job. From there we might have to make a quick decision on the spot, in close coordination with the mission directors and the User Support and Operations Centre. Or André may have a question, something can go wrong...
I love working for André’s mission. When he is talking about science, you can feel that he is very committed to it, that it really comes from his heart.”