In May 2009 Alexander Gerst was presented as one of six new ESA astronauts, overcoming stiff competition by 8,413 applicants from 20 member states. After completing his two-year basic training at the Russian space corporation Rocosmos in Moscow and graduating from the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, he was appointed to become the third German astronaut to visit the International Space Station (ISS).
There were good reasons to select Alexander Gerst as a candidate for future projects in orbit.
Born 3 May 1976 in Künzelsau in the Swabian region of south Germany, Gerst was fascinated by our universe, the origins of the moon and what might be hiding behind the horizon from a young age. After finishing secondary school, he studied geosciences at the University of Karlsruhe, before completing his Master of Science in the same subject in Wellington, New Zealand. He was a summer scholar at the German Aerospace Center in 2006. Gerst completed his doctorate at the University of Hamburg in 2010, submitting a thesis on the eruption dynamics of the Arctic volcano Mount Erebus. Pursuing his childhood dream, he applied for acceptance to the ESA Astronaut Training Division in 2008.
The time finally arrived in August 2011: Alexander Gerst was named to be crew member for the Blue Dot mission to the International Space Station ISS, joining Maxim Surayev from Russia and Reid Wiseman from the United States. Specific preparations for the mission in the areas of medicine, aerospace engineering, cosmic research and the Russian language lasted two years, after which Gerst and his two colleagues took off on their space mission from the Baikonur spaceport on board a Soyuz launch vehicle on 28 May 2014. During his six-month stay Gerst spent working as a board engineer on ISS expedition 40/41. Besides numerous experiments in the areas of material physics, human physiology, radiation biology and astrophysics, among others, Alexander Gerst was also responsible for the docking manoeuvre of the European transport vehicle ATV-5, as well as a spacewalk. After 165 days and eight hours of living and working on the research station, Gerst returned to Earth on 10 November 2014. After touch-down, Gerst has received health check-ups and medical support at the German Aerospace Center in Cologne and elsewhere. At the same time the evaluation of the experiments carried out in space started and continues to the present day.
German president Joachim Gauck awarded Alexander Gerst the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, First Class, on 13 January 2015, in recognition of his contribution to science and his achievements on board the ISS. In addition, minister-president Winfried Kretschmann also presented him with the Order of Merit of Baden-Württemberg on 25 April 2015.
The European Space Agency ESA is keen for Alexander Gerst to continue his extra-terrestrial career. Tentative plans for voyages to the moon or a return to the ISS are in the pipeline.