Alexander Gerst is the 14th German to be selected for the European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Corps. He and five other candidates were selected from a pool of 8413 applicants. He has been based at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne since September 2009, where he has been receiving basic astronaut training. Along with the technical training, he is also being tutored in the Russian language.
Born in 1976, Alexander Gerst performed his national service in the German Red Cross on completion of secondary school in 1995. Following this, he took sabbatical leave for a year, travelling the world before deciding on a geophysics degree at Karlsruhe University (Universität Karlsruhe). During his studies, he visited the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand where, in addition to his degree he obtained a Master’s Degree in Geophysics. After 2005, he studied for a doctorate at the University of Hamburg (Universität Hamburg) with a thesis on the eruptive dynamics of Mount Erebus, the Antarctic volcano.
Gerst has led expeditions in several locations, including Antarctica, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Guatemala, prior to joining the Astronaut Corps. He was in the South Seas when he received an SMS from ESA notifying him of his success in the first part of the selection procedure. The volcanologist sees parallels between his field of study and his future endeavours, "We travel to Antarctica in order to learn about our volcanoes in Europe, and spaceflight allows us to discover aspects of life that affect us here on Earth."
The heavens fascinated him as a child, so his training as an astronaut is a fulfilment of his childhood dreams.