+++UPDATE: German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Kayla Barron, Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn docked with the International Space Station ISS on 12 November at 00:32 CET.+++
With the launch of 'Cosmic Kiss', Matthias Maurer's long-cherished dream comes true. The Saarland native is the fourth German to travel to the International Space Station (ISS). He departed from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 21:03 local time on 10 November 2021 (03:03 CET 11 November 2021). The 51-year-old materials scientist from Sankt Wendel has been a member of the European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Corps since July 2015, and was officially assigned to his first ISS mission on 14 December 2020. Maurer is the second European to fly to the Space Station as a mission specialist on board a SpaceX Dragon. He will do so alongside NASA astronauts Raja Chari (commander), Thomas Marshburn (pilot) and Kayla Barron (mission specialist). The spacecraft, named 'Endurance', with the serial number 210, is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The four-member crew was carried to orbital speed and altitude in eight minutes and 48 seconds, beginning their journey to the ISS. In the meantime, the first stage of the Falcon 9 launcher has returned to Earth for re-use.
Maurer is a member of ISS Expedition 66 and will live and work on the Space Station until April 2022. More than 100 experiments, 36 of which originate from Germany, are on his to-do list while living in the station. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off as scheduled the night between 10 and 11 November, from the well-known Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida. Pad 39A was previously used by the US space agency for its Apollo Moon programme in the 1960s.
"We are all very calm, that is certainly a success of the training," said Matthias Maurer a few days before his departure. "We are very concentrated. The excitement will surely come once we are in the capsule. I'm not a superhero and I don't want to be one, there are many, many people behind my work."
Docking with the International Space Station is scheduled for 22 hours after launch, on 11 November at 19:10 local time (12 November 2021, 01:10 CET) and will be broadcast on NASA TV.
Experiments from Germany on board
The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is involved in the mission in many ways. The German Space Agency at DLR, based in Bonn is responsible for selecting and coordinating the experiments and contributions from German universities and colleges, as well as from industry. DLR scientists are also conducting their own experiments with Maurer's help. ESA's Columbus Control Centre, located at DLR's German Space Operations Center in Oberpfaffenhofen, is responsible for planning and conducting the experiments that take place in the European Columbus module on the ISS. From here, the data from the experiments are sent to national user control centres, and then on to the scientists and participating partners from industry.
"The International Space Station provides a unique location for science. Astronauts live and work on the ISS under microgravity conditions," explains Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. "The ISS will be Matthias Maurer's home for six months. A large part of his time there will be dedicated to scientific work in the fields of human physiology, physics, biology, materials science and radiation. No less than 36 of his experiments come from Germany. These include technologies that will change the way we live and work on Earth."
The German Cosmic Kiss mission experiments include fundamental research as well as application-oriented science and technology tests from the fields of life and materials sciences, physics, medicine, artificial intelligence and Earth observation. In addition, Matthias Maurer's agenda includes an extensive education and outreach programme.
"Matthias Maurer is the 12th German astronaut in space, and one of seven currently active ESA astronauts. He will carry out over 100 scientific experiments – they are all exciting, and the focus is on the benefits and the added value that these experiments can bring to us on Earth. In the context of the pandemic, for example, the aim is to develop surfaces in microgravity that prevent the proliferation of germs and bacteria. If we can do that, I can imagine applications in hospitals and public spaces. Another experiment involves a tracksuit that uses electrical impulses to reduce muscle and bone atrophy. Such suits are important for astronauts, but they can also be beneficial to many millions of people on Earth – for example in physiotherapy," emphasises Walther Pelzer, Member of the DLR Executive Board and Head of the German Space Agency at DLR, which is responsible for the German contribution to ESA on behalf of the Federal Government. Germany is the largest contributor to ESA's ISS programme.
Research in space for people on Earth
The 'work package' for Crew-3 also includes other Cosmic Kiss experiments from Germany. The DOSIS 3D experiment has been measuring radiation inside and outside the ISS since 2012. For DOSIS 3D MINI, Maurer is bringing a new set of radiation detectors to the ISS, to add to those already installed in the European Columbus laboratory. The new detectors will be installed by Maurer in different locations, including the Russian segment of the Space Station. This will make it possible to take measurements at a total of 21 locations on the ISS. This data will be used to generate a 3D model of the radiation exposure on the Space Station. The DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne is responsible for the scientific coordination of DOSIS 3D.
'Easy Motion' – EMS – is a special suit that will assist the astronauts on the ISS during their daily exercise routines. The muscles in the torso and limbs give the body stability and facilitate movement. On Earth, these muscles have to act against gravity, so they maintain their strength naturally. To prevent muscle atrophy and the resulting bone loss in microgravity, Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is employed. This is a modern training method in which muscles are stimulated by applying mild electrical impulses. If the muscle tension achieved using EMS is combined with targeted muscle training, the efficiency of the exercises can be significantly increased. On board the ISS, Maurer will use a specialised EMS suit to complement his exercise programme, which consists of running, cycling and strength training. The project is being carried out under the scientific direction of the Centre for Space Medicine at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin.
The 'Thermo-Mini' experiment, most of which was brought to the Space Station by SpaceX CRS-23 on 29 August 2021, also addresses the field of human physiology. A longer stay in space leads to a sustained increase in the body's core temperature. This 'space fever' poses a potential risk to the health of astronauts – particularly during exercise and extra-vehicular activities. The Thermo-Mini experiment uses a miniaturised thermal sensor strapped to the forehead in a non-invasive manner to record Maurer's core body temperature and circadian rhythm. The data obtained will improve understanding of the phenomenon and, above all, prove that the miniature thermal sensor is suitable for long-term use in space. On Earth, this sensor could be used in extreme environments such as mines and during fire-fighting operations, as well as in hospitals. The Thermo-Mini experiment is being carried out on behalf of the German Space Agency at DLR and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The project is being conducted under the scientific leadership of the Centre for Space Medicine at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin. The miniaturised sensor, commercially available from Dräger GmbH, has been adapted for use in space by KORA Industrie-Elektronik GmbH. Matthias Maurer was also wearing the Thermo-Mini headband during his flight to the ISS.