The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst has been assigned a new mission to the International Space Station, where he will fulfil the role of commander during the second part of his six-month mission in 2018. The announcement was made in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel by ESA Director General Jan Woerner at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.
This is the second time a European astronaut will be commander of the Station in the 15 years it has been occupied – the first was Frank De Winne (from Belgium) in 2009.
Gerst worked on the Station for six months on his Blue Dot mission in 2014. His second mission will run from May to November 2018 as part of Expeditions 56 and 57. He will be commander during the second part of his stay, during Expedition 57.
Eleven European countries participate in the Station through ESA together with USA, Russia, Japan and Canada. ESA astronaut Tim Peake (from the UK) is currently working on the Station, to be followed by Thomas Pesquet (France) in November.
Gerst’s mission will continue the programme of research that often spans multiple missions. His second flight will likely see him working with ESA’s Mares muscle measurement machine, researching plasma crystals in weightlessness, and testing new technologies to support ESA’s human exploration programme, in addition to the experiments of Station partners.
Gerst joined the ESA astronaut corps in 2009 and was assigned his first mission in 2011. He was awarded Germany’s Order of Merit on return from his 166 days in space in 2014.