The mission
Earth's outpost in space
International Space Station ISS

The 'Blue Dot – Shaping the future' mission

Der deutsche ESA-Astronaut Alexander Gerst
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  • Der deutsche ESA%2dAstronaut Alexander Gerst
    German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst

    As part of his 'Blue Dot – Shaping the future' mission, German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst will be on the International Space Station ISS for 166 days.

  • 'Blue Dot' – the logo for the ISS mission of the next German ESA astronaut, Alexander Gerst

    'Blue Dot – Shaping the Future' is the motto of the ISS mission of the next ESA astronaut, Alexander Gerst. During German Aerospace Day on 22 September 2013, DLR and ESA revealed the mission name and its logo.

  • Angetrieben von 26 Millionen PS
    Powered by 26 million hp

    Alexander Gerst will be leaving for the ISS on 28 May 28 2014, on a Russian Soyuz-FG rocket. Since the first launch of this version in 2001, the rocket has been used successfully in 13 unmanned and 34 manned missions.

  • Die Erde als "Pale Blue Dot" aus 6,4 Milliarden Kilometern Entfernung
    Earth as a "pale blue dot" – 6.4 billion miles away

    This image was acquired by the Voyager 1 spacecraft, and shows our planet as a tiny pale blue dot in the darkness of space. In 1990, NASA decided to turn the spacecraft and have its camera take a look back at Earth. Our home planet at that time was 6.4 billion kilometers away. This is the longest distance ever from which a picture of our home planet has been acquired.

  • ATV%2d4 dockt an die ISS an
    ATV-4 docked to the ISS

    The docking of the fourth European Space Agency's ATV freighter 'Albert Einstein' to the ISS on 5 June 2013 at 23:52 CEST begins.

  • EML%2dAnlage: Behälterfreies Schmelzen in Schwerelosigkeit
    EML: melting in microgravity

    In future, alloys will be melted 'container-free' in microgravity with the Electromagentic levitator. Metal samples can be suspended in a magnetic field and heated using conduction coils. The system will be transported to the ISS on board the European cargo spacecraft ATV -5 (Automated Transfer Vehicle).

  • Training an der EML%2dAnlage
    Alexander Gerst training with the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML)

    Alexander Gerst being trained on the functioning of the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML) at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne.

  • Die PK%2d4%2dAnlage zur Untersuchung komplexer Plasmen
    The PK-4 facility for the study of complex plasmas

    In the Blue Dot mission, Alexander Gerst will be taking delivery of the PK-4 unit and installing it in the European Columbus Laboratory. This successor to the German PK-3 and PK-3 Plus units will be used to investigate the physical properties of complex, three-dimensional plasmas.

  • Columbus%2dKontrollzentrum
    DLR Columbus Control Center

    View of the Columbus Control Center (Columbus-Kontrollzentrum), located within the German Space Operations Center (Deutsches Raumfahrt-Kontrollzentrum) at DLR Oberpfaffenhofen. The Columbus Control Center controls the operation of the space laboratory and coordinates its scientific programme on behalf of ESA.

28 May to 10 November 2014

At 21:57 CEST on 28 May 2014, German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on board a Soyuz launch vehicle, bound for the International Space Station (ISS). After a flight of just six hours, he reached the Space Station, which orbits Earth at an altitude of 400 kilometres and travels at a speed of 28,800 kilometres per hour. This makes him the third German to live and work on board the ISS – Thomas Reiter and Hans Schlegel preceded him.

The name of the mission

The name of the Blue Dot mission goes back to world-renowned US astronomer Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996), who referred to Earth as a "pale blue dot", referring to an image taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a distance of around 6.4 billion kilometres – the greatest distance from which an image of our home planet had ever been acquired. In the image, Earth is visible as just a tiny pale blue dot, standing out as an oasis of life against the deep blackness of space, and looking fragile and in need of protection.

The experiments that Alexander Gerst will be conducting on board the ISS have the theme 'Shaping the future'. The aim of these is to improve life on Earth, test out new technologies and prepare for further exploration of the Solar System and space.

100 experiments in 166 days

During his mission, which is planned to last 166 days, Alexander Gerst will be involved in 100 different experiments from the various ISS partners. Of the 40 or so ESA experiments under the ELIPS (European Life and Physical Sciences) programme, 25 are taking place under the guidance of German project scientists or with the participation of German industry. They involve subject areas such as materials physics, human physiology, radiation biology, solar research, biology and biotechnology, fluid physics, astrophysics and technology demonstrations.

Also planned are numerous experiments and projects aimed at education and the development of young scientists, including, for example, the 'Columbus Eye' school project, an Earth observation experiment using remote-controlled cameras on board the ISS, which will be run by the DLR Space Administration and the University of Bonn, in collaboration with NASA. In the 'Aktion 42' competition, which has been announced jointly by ESA and DLR to encourage young researchers, experiments are being developed that will use ISS on-board resources.

Highlights of the mission

One highlight of the mission is the installation and commissioning of the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML), which will be performed by Alexander Gerst. The EML is a furnace in which metallic alloy samples can be melted and solidified while suspended clear of the container walls using electromagnetic fields. The unit is scheduled to be delivered to the ISS in July 2014, on board the European space cargo transporter ATV-5 (Automated Transfer Vehicle) 'Georges Lemaitre'.

During his mission, Alexander Gerst will also be carrying out a space walk, referred to as an Extravehicular Activity (EVA). In August he is due to spend six hours outside the ISS, carrying out maintenance on the Station's exterior equipment and installing scientific experiments. His spacesuit will be cooled by water; drinking water will be delivered via a tube connected to a water tank; helmet lights will provide illumination when the ISS is in Earth's shadow. An EVA is so exhausting that astronauts generally take a week to fully recover.

Gerst will also be operating the Station's robotic arm to dock and undock a number of supply craft – undocking SpaceX-4 (Dragon), docking and undocking SpaceX-5, and docking and undocking the Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) Cygnus-3.

Immediately after landing, Alexander Gerst will be flown to Cologne and become the first European astronaut to be medically cared for in the ESA Astronaut Centre and at the DLR site there. This is a first, as in the past, the health checks for all western astronauts have been carried out in Houston.

Five years of work to become an astronaut

At the outset of his training, Alexander Gerst first had to go through an 18-month basic course consisting of hundreds of hours of training, just to be able to call himself an astronaut. He acquired knowledge of space technology, space research and medicine at training centres in the United States, Russia, Germany, Japan and Canada. He also studied the functioning of the ISS and its supply vehicles. He had to learn Russian within three months – even spending several weeks living with a Russian family in Star City, near Moscow, to do so. He took a diving course, as underwater training offers the best option on Earth for training for space walks on the ISS.

After he was selected for the Blue Dot mission in September 2011, he increased the training workload even more. From then on he trained for his first trip to space for 60 hours a week without a break.

Ground control – round-the-clock support

The mission control centres run by NASA in Houston and Roskosmos in Moscow have overall responsibility for the Station. Where experiments are involved, the Payload Operations Center in Huntsville, USA, has overall responsibility for all western test facilities on the ISS. The other control centres concerned with the payload stay in close contact with them. The Columbus Control Centre (Col-CC) in the German Space Operation Center (GSOC) at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen is responsible for the European Columbus Laboratory. The GSOC remains in constant contact with the other control centres and with the astronauts. The planning and integration of new experiments begins here long before the mission.

The GSOC is the interface between the Columbus experiment facility and the scientists at the European user control centres, such as DLR's MUSC (Microgravity User Support Center) in Cologne. The ISS can be contacted directly by GSOC in the event of problems in the laboratory, and for press conferences and educational activities in space.

Last modified:
06/06/2014 11:45:42



Elke Heinemann
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

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