Instead of a predefined presentation, she asked in advance for a “hands on visit” as she wanted to get explanations of the different activities directly. First she visited the DLR’s Philae Control Centre, the DLR_School_Lab and :envihab, DLR’s aeromedical research facility. There she met ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and, together with him, entered ESA’s European Astronaut Centre where she was welcomed by 7 European astronauts of different nationalities. From Volker Liebig, ESA Director for Earth Observation, Chancellor Merkel received an introduction to some areas of ESA’s activity in Earth observation and was interested in taking some of those aspects to the G20 discussions. She was also interested in the current discussions on developments for the European Earth observation programme Copernicus and Galileo, Europe’s global navigation satellite system, especially with regard to the procurement rules. In addition, she very much supported ESA’s approach to establishing one common European Space Strategy.
The main focus of the visit was to obtain detailed information from ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst about human spaceflight, experiments on board the International Space Station ISS and his own specific experiences. We were able to explain the synergies between robotic and human spaceflight with respect to science and technology but also the way in which they can provide inspiration to society.
In a further meeting we had the opportunity to express our thanks to Chancellor Merkel for visiting ESA. At this point I announced Alex’s next flight in 2018 with the very special aspect of his becoming Commander of the ISS for a certain time. Chancellor Merkel replied by congratulating Alex on his second assignment and confirmed her support for space in general and ESA as the European Space Agency in particular.
All in all it was a very good day for ESA and our activities in space.