Training at the European Astronaut Centre
If a human space mission is to be a success, astronauts (and mission teams on the ground) have to be familiar with every aspect of spacecraft operations. Training in Europe is based mainly at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. Today, the EAC is the home base of ESA's 14 astronauts.
Led by astronaut Frank de Winne, the EAC team is made up of ESA staff, as well as people from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), the French space agency CNES and European industry. The EAC prepares European astronauts for many different types of mission.
One way in which this is done is by rehearsing in-orbit activities in a huge water tank that contains mock up spacecraft modules. Spacesuited astronauts use the tank to practice spacewalks in 'neutral buoyancy', similar to weightlessness. The uplift of the water offsets the pull of gravity, so the astronauts can train in near-real conditions.
The EAC also contains full size mock-ups of space modules, including the ATV supply ferry and the Columbus science lab, as well as simulators and other hands-on equipment. It enables astronauts from countries such as the USA, Russia and Japan to learn about the European parts of the International Space Station.
Modern computer technology also enables astronauts to practise by using a virtual reality system. Wearing a special headset, they can move around or through the space station as if they were really there.
The EAC also provides medical support to the astronauts and their families when they are sent to the USA, Russia and Japan. Dozens of space missions involving astronauts from ESA and its Member States have been supported by the EAC since it was created in 1990.