March 16, 2017 | Double anniversary in Russian-German space history

Two peaceful missions: 25 years MIR'92 and 20 years MIR'97

  • Klaus-Dietrich Flade was the first German cosmonaut on the Russian space station MIR in 1992.
  • Reinhold Ewald lived and worked on the space station for 16 days in 1995.
  • Basis for future cooperation on the International Space Station ISS.

On 19 March 1992, almost 25 years to the day, Klaus-Dietrich Flade became the first German to float into the Russian Mir space station as a cosmonaut. Flade, a trained test pilot and aerospace engineer, spent six days as a scientific cosmonaut on what was at the time the only human outpost in space, as part of the MIR' 92 mission. Reinhold Ewald, a physicist and, since 1990, a German astronaut, was Flade's back-up for MIR '92. Ewald's first flight to the Russian space station as a cosmonaut was during the MIR '97 mission, from 10 February to 2 March 1997.

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) was a leading participant in both missions. The then German Agency for Space Affairs (Deutsche Agentur für Raumfahrtangelegenheiten; DARA, now DLR Space Administration) was in charge of project management, including the selection of the science experiments; on the other hand, the German Research Institute for Aviation and Space Flight (Deutscher Forschungsanstalt für Luft- und Raumfahrt) – called DLR from 1989 – took over the task of selecting and training the astronauts.

"Both missions – MIR '92 and MIR '97 – laid the foundations for a fruitful German-Russian cooperation in spaceflight that has lasted until today. Sigmund Jähn was the pioneer on Salyut; Klaus-Dietrich Flade and Reinhold Ewald followed him on MIR. Today, German astronauts and scientists regularly work in mutual respect with their Russian colleagues on the International Space Station (ISS) and on numerous other space projects. The double anniversary we are celebrating this year – 25 years since MIR '92 and 20 years since MIR '97 – is therefore a great occasion to look back on, but also an important moment to look to the future and beyond at shared, peaceful spaceflight – entirely in the spirit of 'Mir', the station of peace," stresses Gerd Gruppe, Member of the DLR Executive Board responsible for the Space Administration.

MIR '92: beginning and point of departure

The MIR '92 mission marks the beginning of the bilateral German-Russian cooperation in space. "The idea arose at a meeting between the then Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and the German Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl in mid-July 1990 in the Caucasus. Many people remember the famous photo of Gorbachev and Kohl sitting on tree trunks discussing world politics. Both politicians believed a space mission would impressively underscore the new German-Russian relationship," says Flade, describing the background. On 8 October 1990, a few days after the German Reunification, the cosmonauts were presented in Dresden. "My training for the MIR '92 mission began a few months later, on 12 November 1990. We prepared the 14 experiments for the mission in a very short time, before heading off to MIR aboard a Soyuz launcher on 17 March 1992," the cosmonaut recalls. To date, a particularly vivid and powerful memory for Flade and his crewmate Ewald is meeting Gorbachev in person on Mount Petersberg near Bonn in November 1990.

Of the 14 experiments for the MIR '92 mission, five were provided by DLR. The focus was on medical experiments, for instance the distribution of bodily fluids in microgravity, sleep patterns and the day-night rhythm in space, as well as psychological performance tests. Measurements on radiation protection and materials science research were also part of the programme.

MIR '97 – development and consolidation

While Flade still had to document his work on board MIR in handwriting, by 1997 there was a laptop on board: "There has been a lot of positive development since the days of Mir. Back then, we tested automated procedures that are commonplace today on the ISS. We could only communicate with Earth by radio from Mir for 15 minutes per orbit, when we flew over the Russian ground stations. For example, today data volumes of 50 megabits and more per second are sent down. On Mir, on the other hand, part of the audio frequency spectrum on the radio still had to be blocked out so information could be sent as a fax, at a transfer rate of 1000 bits [per second]," explains Ewald. "However, important groundwork was achieved in the days of Mir, the principles of which are still used on the ISS today. We were also able to get to know each other and build trust in our respective skills."

Ewald, today a professor of astronautics in Stuttgart, spent 16 days on Mir 20 years ago, during which DLR contributed twelve out of a total of 36 experiments. The focus once again was on human medicine, i.e. the effect of microgravity on the human body. And despite a fire on board the station, Ewald brought a surprising result back to Earth that is still being investigated today – he was the first spacefarer for whom controlled measurements over 20 days showed that the body stores proportionately more salt than water in microgravity. Until then, it had been assumed that salt-water storage was proportional. It was subsequently discovered that this excess salt is stored directly under the skin. This discovery has also influenced research on bone metabolism and bone loss and our understanding of the immune response in microgravity. Today, we know that higher salt consumption accelerates bone loss – on Earth as well as in space.

Related Links


Elisabeth Mittelbach

Me­dia in­quiries Ger­man Space Agen­cy
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Ger­man Space Agen­cy at DLR
Königswinterer Str. 522-524, 53227 Bonn