When ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst landed back on Earth, his mission was far from over. Many scientists were eager to get more data on how his body and mind reacted to his six months in space. But first Alexander needed to adapt to living on Earth again.
Many astronauts note the striking smells and colours upon returning to our planet. After six months of living without a shower in recycled air and drinking recycled water, the simple pleasures and senses in life are most welcome.
Returning in a weakened state from living without gravity, astronauts can need a few days to relearn how to stand up and walk after their bodies have become accustomed to floating around effortlessly. Standing up and balancing can be problematic as gravity affects how the fluids in our bodies behave.
Alexander was the first astronaut to return straight home after a spaceflight for rehabilitation. From their landing site, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman returned to Houston, USA, cosmonaut commander Maxim Suraev flew to Star City, near Moscow, Russia, while Alexander was welcomed at ESA’s astronaut centre in Cologne, Germany.
Using state-of-the-art equipment at the German Aerospace Center’s Envihab facility, technicians monitored Alexander’s health.
Some experiments demanded immediate access to Alexander before his body changed under the influence of gravity. Scientists drew blood, conducted MRI scans and asked questions in the name of science.
Another group of people interested in Alexander were the mission controllers and operational support people. A thorough debriefing was held with multiple teams to understand how things went, what could be improved and how to do things better on the next mission.
Lastly, when Alexander finished his rehabilitation, scientific protocol and debriefings, a tour awaits to explain first-hand how it is like to be in space.