Thirty years of ESA astronauts in space
28 November 2013
Thirty years ago today, on 28 November 1983, the first European-built Spacelab was launched into space on Space Shuttle Columbia. ESA’s first astronaut Ulf Merbold flew on that mission, marking ESA’s entry into human spaceflight.
The six astronauts on Spacelab-1 worked in two teams on 12-hour shifts, allowing for continuous operations. They performed over 70 experiments in solar physics, space plasma physics, astronomy, Earth observation, material science, technology and life sciences.
After circling the Earth 166 times in just over 10 days, Columbia landed back on Earth on 8 December.
Between 1983 and 1998, Spacelab modules flew on the Space Shuttle 22 times and totalled 244 days in orbit! Experiments surveyed the possibilities of weightless research in many scientific areas that led to space-age metals used in mass-produced smartphones, and revealed areas of space research that show promise in treating chronic muscle diseases.
Europe’s Columbus laboratory on the ISS evolved from Spacelab. On the inside, Spacelab used standardised science racks that contributed to its success and were adopted for all of the Station’s laboratory modules.
In the same way that Spacelab was operated by international teams of astronauts, so are today’s European experiments and laboratories on the Station. They are kept running and performing science by the Station’s permanent crew – which now includes European astronauts.