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

Horizons mission ends after 197 days in space

Alexander Gerst is back on Earth

20 December 2018

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  • Alexander Gerst: Ankunft beim DLR in Köln
    Alexander Gerst - Arrival in DLR Cologne

    Astro Alex was welcomed upon his arrival to the DLR Cologne site on 20 December 2018, after his return from the International Space Station ISS.

  • Erste Interviews nach der Landung am Flughafen Köln/Bonn
    First interviews upon his arrival at Cologne-Bonn airport

    The German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst in front of journalists shortly after his arrival at Cologne-Bonn airport on 20 December 2018.

  • Alexander Gerst wird am Flughafen Köln/Bonn begrüßt
    Alexander Gerst is welcomed at Cologne-Bonn airport

    From left to right: Frank de Winne, Head of the European Astronaut Centre EAC and Lead ISS Operations; Dave Parker, ESA's Director for Human and Robotic Exploration; Jan Wörner, ESA Director General; Alexander Gerst; Thomas Jarzombek, Coordinator of the Federal Government for the German Aerospace Industry; Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board; Henriette Reker, Mayor of Cologne; Walther Pelzer, Member of the DLR Executive Board and Head of the DLR Space Administration; Hansjörg Dittus, DLR Executive Board Member for Space Research and Technology; Klaus-Peter Willsch, Member of the German Bundestag and Chairman of the Aviation and Space Group.

  • GerstLandung2_sn.jpg
    Back on Earth

    On 20 December 2018 at 6:02 CET, the German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, together with NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Roscosmos cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev, landed back on Earth in a Soyuz capsule.

  • VorSpacewalk_sn.jpg
    Before the spacewalk

    Expeditions 56 and 57 on 10 December 2018, just before the spacewalk. During the Extravehicular Activity on 11 December, the crew members helped the Russian astronauts in and out of the Station.

  • Roboterarm_sn.jpg
    Alexander Gerst in the Cupola

    The German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst observes the approach of the SpaceX Dragon from the Cupola.

  • Roboterarmaussen_sn.jpg
    Transport vehicle at the ISS

    The spacecraft is in the grip of the robot arm. The capture manoeuvre is a challenge for the astronauts every time.

  • Parkinson_sn.jpg
    Work on an experiment

    Alexander Gerst is working on an experiment to study Parkinson's disease. The protein crystals typical of the disease are larger in microgravity conditions than on Earth.

  • VorbereitungSojus_sn.jpg
    Preparations for the new crew

    On 9 November 2018, the International Space Station prepared for the arrival of the new crew. The Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft will bring three more astronauts to the ISS.

  • SojusanISS_sn.jpg
    View of Earth at night

    From the ISS you can see the capsule with which Alexander Gerst returned to Earth. Underneath, the Earth is visible at night.

  • The German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst returned to Earth safely after 197 days in space.
  • The Soyuz capsule landed on schedule in the Kazakh steppe at 6:02 Central European Time (CET).
  • On 3 October 2018, Alexander Gerst became the first German and second European commander on the ISS. During his mission, he worked on approximately 200 experiments.
  • Focus: Space, exploration

+++ Update 20 December 2018, 19:45 CET: Alexander Gerst touched down at Cologne-Bonn airport and is currently at DLR's :envihab facility in Cologne undergoing the intensive series of medical examinations necessary for astronauts returning from space missions. +++

Alexander Gerst returned to Earth safely in the early hours of 20 December 2018 after 197 days in space, 195 of them on board the International Space Station ISS. The Soyuz MS-09 touched down close to Karaganda in the Kazakh steppe right on schedule at 06:02 Central European Time. The spacecraft carrying the German ESA astronaut, the NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and the Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev left the International Space Station at 02:40 CET, and the crew of the ISS Expedition 57 was back on terra firma just under three and a half hours later.

"We are thrilled that Alexander Gerst has returned to Earth in good health and that his horizons mission has been so successful. As DLR, we are also delighted to have contributed to an important part of the mission, which we have implemented on the front line over the last six months – 40 of the 65 European experiments came from Germany. The Columbus Control Centre at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen and the :envihab research facility for aerospace medicine at our site in Cologne made us part of the mission team on the ground, and we did everything in our power to support Alexander Gerst," says Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Executive Board.

Successful research in space

On 6 June 2018, Alexander Gerst embarked on his second cosmic mission from the Russian Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. His first mission was Blue Dot and took place in 2014. Gerst worked on around 200 experiments (Blue Dot: approx. 160) during the mission, including 65 ESA experiments, 40 of which originated in Germany and/or involved German contributions. "It was a very intense, but also extraordinarily successful mission," says Volker Schmid, horizons mission manager at DLR, as an initial summary: "Alexander was able to complete all of the experiments and work that were scheduled for his mission. Only the launch of the photobioreactor has been postponed to March 2019. There were several premieres as well, for instance CIMON's first deployment in a microgravity environment. CIMON is an astronaut assistance system equipped with artificial intelligence that was developed and built in Germany. Another premiere was the use of the fluorescence microscope FLUMIAS, which provided the first live imaging of biochemical processes unfolding in cell cultures in space."

First German commander on the ISS

On 3 October, Gerst became the first German and second European commander of the ISS. Following cancellation of the Soyuz launch on 11 October, he was responsible for managing all tasks with a smaller crew on board (three astronauts instead of six) for two months – until the current ISS team (Expedition 58) arrived on 3 December 2018. Like in 2014, Alexander Gerst sent a steady stream of sometimes exquisitely beautiful, other times alarming images back down to Earth from an altitude of 400 kilometres, demonstrating again how unique – yet vulnerable – our 'space ship' actually is and that climate change and the depletion of nature and the environment have left deep scars. Participating in 12 ARISS calls with schools and dozen live calls with media representatives, government authorities and an interested parties, Gerst was therefore deeply engaged in generating interest in science, technology and space issues among children and adolescents and increase awareness about the fact that our future on the Blue Planet rests firmly in all of our hands.

Arrival at :envihab in Cologne

After returning to Earth on 20 December 2018, Gerst will go home as quickly as possible. A special NASA aircraft will take him to Cologne Bonn Airport after a stopover in Norway. Arriving at around 20:45 pm, the 42-year-old will proceed directly to the :envihab research facility at the DLR site in Cologne, where he will be cared for by DLR and the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) over the next few days. ":envihab has the ideal facilities to recover from the physical strain of spending a long period in space. The astronauts receive support from an experienced, highly specialised team that has the necessary laboratories and state-of-the-art medical equipment," emphasises Jens Jordan, director of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine. Four European astronauts – including Gerst in 2014 – have already used the facility to readapt to the conditions on Earth under the supervision of aerospace physicians.

With a short break for Christmas, the team of doctors and scientists will give Alexander Gerst round-the-clock care for the next two weeks and will also conduct exams on behalf of ESA, NASA and other space agencies. Among other things, the scientists will take blood and saliva samples to determine changes to the immune system during a prolonged period in space. Muscle tone, elasticity and stiffness will also be measured in order to analyse the influence on muscle functions. Many of the medical tests such as the MRI measurements, EKG, fitness tests and eye examinations were also carried out before and during the mission. Now they will continue back on Earth using precisely the same measuring devices as those on the ISS. This will provide the researchers with data that enables them to identify changes brought on by a stay on the ISS.

Support from the German Space Operations Center

Alexander Gerst circled the Earth more than 3000 times during his horizons mission. Whenever he or his astronaut colleagues were working on experiments in the European science laboratory Columbus, they were in continuous contact with the Columbus Control Centre (Col-CC) at the German Space Operations Center at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen. As flight director, Marius Bach was responsible for planning the experiments, as well as for adherence to the correct procedure. "We are overjoyed that Alex managed to perform so many German and also international experiments. In total, he was able to complete almost all of the 100 hours of experiment time allotted to the European part of his mission."

With its team of 50 employees, the Col-CC operated 24/7 to make sure that the astronauts found the conditions they needed in the Columbus laboratory. Bach and his colleagues spoke directly to the astronauts every Tuesday to coordinate the work in the Columbus science laboratory. In addition to efficient planning, Bach – and after the scheduled handover to his successor in mid-September – Laura Zanardini needed to be certain that the astronaut conserved his strength:  "Alex is known for his extremely meticulous style of work, which is why ESA and NASA often ask him to do more complex tasks. Our job was to monitor that he received – and also stuck to – enough rest in the following days."

Last modified:
21/12/2018 10:33:24



Elisabeth Mittelbach
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Communications, Space Administration

Tel.: +49 228 447-385

Fax: +49 228 447-386
Volker Schmid
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Space Administration, Human Spaceflight, ISS and Exploration

Tel.: +49 228 447-305

Fax: +49 228 447-737
Marius Bach
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Space Operations and Astronaut Training, Col-CC Flight Director

Tel.: +49 81 53283-277