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 together with his colleagues - the American astronaut Reid Wiseman and the Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev. He was the third German to live and work on board the ISS. On 10 November 2014, after a three-and-a-half hour journey on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, Alexander Gerst landed on the Kazakh steppe at 4:58 CET (9:58 local time).
The name of the Blue Dot mission goes back to world-renowned US astronomer Carl Sagan, 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.
100 experiments in 166 days
During his mission Alexander Gerst was involved in 100 different experiments from the various ISS partners. 25 took place under the guidance of German project scientists or with the participation of German industry. hey involve subject areas such as materials physics, human physiology, radiation biology, solar research, biology and biotechnology, fluid physics, astrophysics and technology demonstrations.
One highlight of the mission was the installation and commissioning of the Electromagnetic Levitator (EML). 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. It was delivered to the ISS in July 2014, on board the European transporter ATV-5.
The installation and commisioning were performed by Alexander Gerst. The German Space Operations Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhofen and European User Control Centers like the Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC) in Cologne supported his work in the Columbus Loboratoy.