"It was only when I removed my helmet that I noticed that something was different – it floated as soon as I let go of it. We had arrived in orbit," wrote astronaut Gerhard Thiele in his logbook when he flew on the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission in February 2000. Astronaut Thomas Reiter was also full of enthusiasm once he had completed his extra-vehicular activity: "Anyone working on a space station is naturally happy to be able to work outside it. I could never have hoped to be closer to the Universe. One works outside the space station, travelling at 28,000 kilometres per hour, and is offered a view that is not available through a window; this is an overwhelming experience and an almost indescribable feeling."
Ten Germans have experienced zero gravity to date as astronauts and cosmonauts. Many experience it on a single flight, others on several; Thomas Reiter can look back at two long-term missions with the longest stay in space for a German and Ulf Merbold has been the most German frequent visitor to orbit, with three missions in eleven years. Not everyone who joins the astronaut corps actually makes it into space – Eberhard Köllner, Renate Brümmer and Heike Walpot remained on the ground as backup astronauts. Alexander Gerst is the most recent German addition to the astronaut corps, joining in 2009.
German astronauts and their missions
|Astronaut||Mission name||Start||Landing||Mission goal/units|
|Sigmund Jähn||Sojuz-31/-29||26 August 1978||3 August 1978||The cosmonauts carried out a number of experiments with the multispectral Earth remote-sensing camera MFK 6, as well as materials science and medical experiments.|
|Ulf Merbold||STS-9||28 November 1983||8 December 1983||An important part of this mission was the commissioning of the Spacelab space laboratory, built by the European Space Agency.|
|STS-42||22 January 1992||30 January 1992||Using the International Microgravity Laboratory-1 (IML-1), the astronauts explored the complex effects of weightlessness on living organisms and other materials.|
|Euromir 94 (Sojuz TM-20/-19)||3 October 1994||4 November 1994||The first ESA mission to the Russian space station, Mir served to prepare for the era of the Columbus European space laboratory.|
|Reinhard Furrer/Ernst Messerschmid||Spacelab D1 (STS-61A)||30 October 1985||6 November 1985||The astronauts conducted over 70 experiments in just seven days. Furrer and Messerschmidt's investigations include the effects of microgravity on materials processing and the human body. |
|Klaus-Dietrich Flade||Mir 92 (Sojuz TM-14/-24)||17 March 1992||25 March 1992||During the mission, the cosmonauts conducted experiments in biological, medical and materials science.|
|Ulrich Walter/Hans Schlegel||Spacelab D2 (STS-55)||26 April 1993||6 May1993||The second German mission for the multi-purpose space laboratory, Spacelab, on board Space Shuttle Columbia During the multi-disciplinary mission, the crew conducted nearly 90 experiments in the fields of materials and life sciences and technology, automation, robotics, and Earth and space observation.|
|Thomas Reiter||Sojuz TM-22||3 September 1995||29 February 1996||This was the second ESA mission to the Mir space station as part of a series of flights in preparation for the Columbus European space laboratory.|
|Astrolab (STS-121/-116)||4 July 2006||22 December 2006||This mission laid the foundation for the future use of the Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station.|
|Reinhold Ewald||Mir 97 (Sojuz TM-25/-24)||10 February 1997||2 March 1997||The aim was to continue the science program of earlier Mir missions.|
|Gerhard Thiele||SRTM/STS-99||11 February 2000||22 February 2000||The mission collected data for the first three-dimensional digital map of the entire surface of Earth, and is also referred to as the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM).|
|Hans Schlegel||STS-122||7 February 2008||20 February 2008||Columbus was attached to the International Space Station during this mission.|