In my free time I like to contact people on Earth. For example, when we fly over Hawaii I try to phone a friend who lives there. Recently my family went skiing in Austria. I phoned them when we were flying over the Alps. It is a strange idea that they are somewhere on those mountains, while I am looking at the same mountains from a distance of 400 kilometres above. Helen had very nice surprise for me during her skiing holiday. A real surprise party in space…

Surprise!!
My timeline showed that I had a contact with ground control planned and I expected it to be a standard talk with management, but it turned out to be a video call with COL-CC. This stands for Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, near Munich. Day and night people monitor the European space laboratory Columbus from Munich.  They also help me with procedures, or if I cannot find something. Usually I speak to the contact person or “Eurocom”, via radio. It was nice to see my colleagues at COL-CC on the video screen this time. Suddenly Helen, my youngest children and my in-laws showed up on the video as well. To surprise me, they had driven to Munich

from their winter holiday location. I was very happily surprised to see them.

Astronauts are the most visible part of a space mission. People often do not consider the thousands of people working on the ground at ESA, NASA and the other space organisations that make a mission possible. Some of these people are at COL-CC. You could say that the ISS is actually theirs. They know where everything is located (ideally) and know how everything works. We, the astronauts, are only guests trying to operate the equipment as best we can. I answered questions from COL-CC colleagues and saw a lovely looking cake that was eaten in my honour. Unfortunately I was not able to enjoy the cake, nor stay for a drink…