Mission “Cosmic Kiss”: German astronaut flies to the ISS


Status: 10/30/2021 3:30 a.m.

Tomorrow, ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer will be the twelfth German to launch into space. He has had long, hard training in many disciplines behind him: from Russian courses to diving in a spacesuit.

By Ute Spangenberger, SWR

Experimenting, repairing and training – these are three of the tasks that await the German ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer on the ISS. For years he has been preparing for the mission called “Cosmic Kiss”. Maurer will launch into space with a NASA astronaut and two NASA astronauts from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Ute Spangenberger

This makes him the fourth German to fly to the ISS and, since 2008, the first German astronaut to take off from US soil. NASA stopped the space shuttle flights in 2011 and with it the transport of astronauts. The US space company SpaceX has been flying to the ISS since last year – with Maurer on board for the fourth time.

The missions have all run smoothly so far, emphasizes SWR space expert Uwe Gradwohl. The Crew Dragon spaceship flies to the ISS fully automatically and docks automatically – there is no need to steer on the way. “It is a very comfortable means of transport and offers a lot of space compared to the Russian Soyuz capsules, in which the astronauts always sit very cramped. Here they can even get out of the seat a little and float through the capsule.”

He already knows his astronaut suit well enough from training: Matthias Maurer

Image: dpa

Research in special training suits

Before his astronaut career, Maurer worked as an engineer and did his doctorate in the field of materials science. He will carry out a total of 150 experiments on the ISS, 36 of which were contributed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Maurer will do experiments in the field of basic research as well as very practical experiments. “For example, he will research surfaces that have been very finely structured with the help of lasers. It is hoped that germs cannot settle on them as well. An environment free of harmful germs is not only important for the residents of a space station, but also An exciting topic with a view to the current pandemic situation, “explains Gradwohl. “Another interesting attempt he makes: He wears a special training suit that gives his muscles small electrical impulses so that they can be trained more quickly.”

Together into space: astronauts Mashburn, Chari, Maurer and Barron upon their arrival at the Cape Canaveral space center

Build: AP

Spherical robot accompanies the crew

As with Alexander Gerst’s mission, Maurer is also accompanied by CIMON, a floating, spherical robot that can see, hear, understand and speak. His robotic role model in the 1980s was Professor Simon Wright, the “flying brain” in the animated series “Captain Future”.

Little flying helper: The spherical robot “Cimon” is used on the ISS (archive picture from 2018).

Image: CLEMENS BILAN / EPA-EFE / REX / Shutte

Walther Pelzer from DLR explains that the use of CIMON is not an end in itself on the ISS, but can be used in everyday life on earth, for example when dealing with the elderly: “The aim of robotics and artificial intelligence is to lead a self-determined life long as possible. That means that people who can actually no longer live alone in their own four walls are enabled to stay longer in their environment. “

Hard training for the stay on the ISS

When he arrives on the ISS, Maurer will meet a friend: the French ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet. In April he was the first European to fly to the ISS with SpaceX. Both had prepared for their missions together – with training that was tough.

In addition to practicing the scientific experiments, they completed a hard physical program, such as underwater training in spacesuits to simulate field operations on the ISS. Language lessons were also included in order to communicate with Russian colleagues on the ISS. That was perhaps the most difficult part of the training, Maurer recently tweeted with a wink.

New space craze

Being active on social media, posting impressions and sending photos to earth – that will also be part of Maurer’s mission on the ISS. His German predecessor on the ISS, Alexander Gerst, who flew with a Russian Soyuz capsule from Baikonur to the ISS in 2014 and 2018, had done this regularly and thus aroused a lot of interest.

The former Director General of ESA, Jan Wörner, during whose tenure Maurer was appointed to the active ESA astronaut corps, believes that this space stay will also make a difference to the public: “When the astronauts come back from their missions, they will be significantly changed and will make it almost always to carry this change into their country, “he says. “When Matthias Maurer reports on his mission – not only about the facts, but also about the emotions – he has the opportunity to inspire.”


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