Astrolab was Europe’s first long-duration mission to the International Space Station. ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter joined the crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-121, which was launched 4 July 2006.
Thomas Reiter lived and worked on the International Space Station for five months, returning to Earth with the STS-116 Shuttle flight on 22 December 2006.
ESA astronaut Léopold Eyharts was the back-up astronaut for the mission. Léopold completed the same training programme as Thomas, and could replace him if needed.
The mission was covered by an agreement between ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos. The agreement, which covered the ESA astronaut’s flight originally planned for a Russian cosmonaut is supported by a tri-lateral understanding between ESA, Roscosmos and NASA.
The Astrolab Mission marked many important milestones for ESA, European science and European Control Centres.
First ESA astronaut to become a member of an International Space Station Expedition
Shortly after arriving at the Space Station, Thomas joined Expedition 13 crew as Flight Engineer 2. He took on many vital tasks which contributed to the running and maintenance of the Space Station. Thomas continued these tasks after the crew exchange from Expedition 13 to Expedition 14 in September 2006.
First ESA astronaut to perform a spacewalk from the International Space Station
Thomas took part in the first European spacewalk, or Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA), from the International Space Station on 3 August 2006. Thomas had previously performed two spacewalks during his Euromir 95 mission in 1996.
First long-duration European experiment programme on the International Space Station
Astrolab marked the first time that a European scientific programme was assembled for a long-duration mission. The programme came from scientific institutions across Europe, and includes experiments in human physiology, biology, physics and radiation dosimetry. Further activities focused on technology demonstrations, industrial experiments and education.
Delivery and commissioning of European experiment facilities
Space Shuttle Discovery brang three ESA-developed experiment facilities and devices to the International Space Station:
- Minus 80 degrees Laboratory Freezer for the Space Station
- European Modular Cultivation System
- Percutaneous Electrical Muscle Stimulator
Return to a three-member Expedition crew
The arrival of Thomas marked the return from a two-member to a three-member Expedition crew. Expedition crews were reduced from three to two following the Columbia Space Shuttle accident in February 2003.
First European Control Centre for long-duration International Space Station mission
Europe’s control centre for Astrolab was based at the new Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich, in Germany. The control centre is the hub of European activity during the mission, with tasks such as:
- Monitoring and coordinating astronauts activities
- Coordinating with Russian and American mission control centres
- Coordinating with the European Astronaut Centre, in Cologne, Germany
- Coordinating with User Support and Operations Centres throughout Europe