German astronauts and their missions

Thomas Reiter during his extra-vehicular activity on 3 August 2006
Thomas Reiter during his extra-vehicular activity on 3 August 2006
Credit: NASA

Thomas Reiter during his extra-vehicular activity on 3 August 2006

German ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter, a flight engineer on the Expedition 13 crew aboard the International Space Station (ISS), photographed during his extra-vehicular activity (EVA) on 3 August 2006, performed together with NASA astronaut Jeff Williams (not in the picture). The EVA lasted for a total of 5 hours and 54 minutes.

"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

AstronautMissionLaunchLanding Mission goals/tasks
Alexander Gersthorizons6 June 201820 December 2018Finding 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 GerstBlue Dot28 May 201410 November 2014Gerst 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 SchlegelSTS-1227 February 200820 February 2008Columbus was attached to the International Space Station during this mission.
Hans SchlegelAstrolab (STS-121/-116)4 July 200622 December 2006This mission laid the foundation for the future use of the Columbus laboratory on the International Space Station.
Gerhard ThieleSRTM/STS-9911 February 200022 February 2000The 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 EwaldMir 97 (Soyuz TM-25/-24)10 February 19972 March 1997The aim was to continue the science program of earlier Mir missions.
Thomas ReiterSoyuz TM-223 September 199529 February 1996This 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 ReiterEuromir 94 (Soyuz TM-20/-19)3 October 19944 November 1994The first ESA mission to the Russian space station, Mir served to prepare for the era of the Columbus European space laboratory.
Ulrich Walter/Hans SchlegelSpacelab D2 (STS-55)26 April 19936 May1993The 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 FladeMir 92 (Soyuz TM-14/-24)17 March 199225 March 1992During the mission, the cosmonauts conducted experiments in biological, medical and materials science.
Klaus-Dietrich FladeSTS-4222 January 199230 January 1992Using the International Microgravity Laboratory-1 (IML-1), the astronauts explored the complex effects of weightlessness on living organisms and other materials.
Reinhard Furrer/Ernst MesserschmidSpacelab D1 (STS-61A)30 October 19856 November 1985The 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 MerboldSTS-928 November 19838 December 1983An important part of this mission was the commissioning of the Spacelab space laboratory, built by the European Space Agency.
Sigmund JähnSoyuz-31/-2926 August 19783 August 1978The cosmonauts carried out a number of experiments with the multispectral Earth remote-sensing camera MFK 6, as well as materials science and medical experiments.

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