Thomas Reiter: the first German onboard the International Space Station
German ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter is the first European to be sent on a long-duration mission to the International Space Station (ISS). He is also the first German to visit the ISS. Reiter took off on his six- to seven-month mission on 4 July 2006 on the US Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-121).
The first European to travel by Space Shuttle to the International Space Station was Italian Umberto Guidoni in April 2001. Since then, there have been seven other missions involving European astronauts, lasting an average of 10 days. Thomas Reiter’s long-duration mission is an important milestone for Europe in the utilisation of the ISS.
First European member of the ISS Expedition Crew
Two days after arriving at the ISS, Reiter assumed his role of second flight engineer for Expedition Crews 13 and 14. His tasks include the monitoring and maintaining the space station, monitoring the environment and life support systems, the health and safety of the crew, extra-vehicular activity or EVA (‘spacewalks’) and logistics handling for the Progress transporter.
First long-term European research programme on the ISS
Reiter has performed about 30 scientific and technological experiments on board the ISS. Eight of the experiments are from Germany, while German researchers are involved in a number of others. This is the first time European scientists have had the opportunity to design a wide range of experiments adapted to the possibilities offered by the ISS, and to carry them out over an extended period. This also includes the installation and commissioning of three research labs developed especially for the ISS. Previous European experiments were either operated by American or Russian astronauts, or by ESA astronauts on short taxi missions lasting just a few days. Now, however, scientists have the first-ever chance to carry out different series of experiments with varying parameters as intensively as they would in a normal laboratory on Earth.
Return to a three-member crew on the ISS
Following the destruction of Space Shuttle Columbia on 1 February 2003, the ISS crew was limited to two astronauts. The Astrolab mission signalled a return to a three-astronaut team, which was good news for research activities on the ISS.
First long-duration mission for the Columbus Control Centre at Oberpfaffenhofen
Astrolab is the first long-duration mission to be managed by a European control centre. Astrolab is being coordinated by DLR on behalf of ESA at the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen. It is here that Thomas Reiter’s activities are coordinated and observed in collaboration with the mission control centres in Houston and Moscow, the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne and various European user centres. Astrolab is providing Europe with important insights into the management of long-duration manned missions as it prepares to coordinate the European research lab mission Columbus, which is scheduled to dock with the ISS in 2008.
The Astrolab mission is being funded from ESA’s current budget. Germany is also contributing another €2.2 million to the mission. Astrolab is covered by a European-Russian agreement enabling an ESA astronaut to occupy a crew place originally intended for a Russian cosmonaut. The agreement forms part of a trilateral understanding between ESA, Roscosmos and NASA.
The key milestones of the Astrolab mission at a glance:
- First ESA astronaut to become a member of a long-duration ISS Expedition Crew
- First ESA astronaut to perform a spacewalk
- First European long-duration experiment programme on the ISS
- Delivery and commissioning of European experimental facilities
- Return to a three-member ISS Expedition Crew
- First European control centre for long-duration ISS mission