"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 microgravity 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 has been on the International Space Station twice. On 28 May 2014, he embarked on his first mission, which lasted six months, and on 6 June 2018 on his second mission.
"Reaching new horizons and conquering them is what drives us humans. The ISS gives us the opportunity to leave our ‘spaceship Earth’. The Space Station is not just a one-of-a-kind laboratory, but also the first spacecraft that shows us how to live together in a multicultural community beyond our planet Earth. For me, horizons is also the perfect continuation of my Blue Dot mission, for which the focus was on our blue planet. With horizons, I am looking forward to broadening my horizons even further," said Gerst. Matthias Maurer was appointed by ESA as a member of the astronaut corps, making him the newest German astronaut.
German astronauts and their missions
|Alexander Gerst||horizons||6 June 2018||20 December 2018||Finding solutions to the global challenges of our society: 'Health, Environment and Climate Change', as well as 'Digitalisation, Industry 4.0, Energy Supply and Mobility of Tomorrow'. (From 3 October, first German commander of the ISS)|
|Alexander Gerst||Blue Dot||28 May 2014||10 November 2014||Gerst performed experiments in the fields of materials physics, human physiology, radiation biology and astrophysics and was responsible for the docking of the European space freighter ATV-5. He also participated in a spacewalk.|
|Hans Schlegel||STS-122||7 February 2008||20 February 2008||Columbus was attached to the International Space Station during this mission.|
|Hans Schlegel||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.|
|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).|
|Reinhold Ewald||Mir 97 (Soyuz TM-25/-24)||10 February 1997||2 March 1997||The aim was to continue the science program of earlier Mir missions.|
|Thomas Reiter||Soyuz 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.|
|Thomas Reiter||Euromir 94 (Soyuz 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.|
|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.|
|Klaus-Dietrich Flade||Mir 92 (Soyuz TM-14/-24)||17 March 1992||25 March 1992||During the mission, the cosmonauts conducted experiments in biological, medical and materials science.|
|Klaus-Dietrich Flade||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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Sigmund Jähn||Soyuz-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.|