On 24 July 1997, ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter will be awarded the Russian Soyuz Return Commander' certificate at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, in Star City near Moscow, Russia. He will become the first non-Russian astronaut to have earned this certificate which qualifies him to be the commander of a three-person Soyuz capsule during its return from space.
The Soyuz is currently used to transport astronauts to and from the Russian space station Mir. When the International Space Station gets underway in 1998, it will become the main vehicle that the astronauts onboard will use in an emergency one Soyuz will remain permanently attached to the Station as a lifeboat'.
With Thomas Reiter's new certification, ESA can now provide its first astronaut qualified to return such a rescue vehicle from the International Space Station. The knowledge acquired during his training also provides ESA with valuable input to the European Crew Transport/Crew Rescue Vehicle (CTV/CRV) that the Agency is currently studying for use with the International Space Station.
Thomas Reiter is no stranger to Russian space systems: he spent 179 days on board the Russian space station Mir in 1995/96 as part of the joint ESA-Russian Euromir 95 mission. During that time, he also performed two Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs) or spacewalks'.
To obtain this latest certification, he has completed an in depth course (600 hours) on the Soyuz-TM spacecraft systems which included numerous practical sessions in the Soyuz simulator. He has also undergone a number of oral examinations given by Russian commissions.
Under an agreement between ESA and the German Air Force, Thomas Reiter will now return to the German Air Force for an 18-month period to further his piloting and commander skills. Throughout that time, he will remain available to ESA for specific projects. He will resume his activities at ESA's European Astronauts Centre in March 1999, in preparation for a new assignment to a space mission.
On this occasion, ESA and the Russian Cosmonaut Training Centre invite journalists to a photo session in the Soyuz simulators followed by a press briefing with Thomas Reiter, starting at 10.00 on 24 July at the Training Centre near Moscow.
Members of the press wishing to take part in the event are requested to complete the attached form and return it to ESA's Moscow office.