ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet has his bags packed for Houston, USA, and at the end of this month, he’ll begin training for ESA’s next mission to the International Space Station.
Though the exact date for Thomas’ mission is yet to be confirmed, he will be the first European astronaut to fly on a US Commercial Crew Vehicle and is expected to be launched in the second half of 2021.
Thomas will fly on either a SpaceX or Boeing spacecraft, both of which are in the testing stages of development, and will be watching closely as the first NASA astronauts – Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley – are launched in a SpaceX Crew Dragon this year.
First phase of training
The initial stages of Thomas’ mission training are designed as a refresher.
Once at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston he will be assessed on his knowledge of the Station’s systems and operations, allowing trainers to tailor his training programme.
Thomas will also be reacquainted with his spacesuit, checking the fit before testing it out in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) pool used for spacewalk training.
He recently completed his annual re-certification to dive in NASA’s NBL and ESA’s Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) alongside Matthias Maurer and Alexander Gerst, and refamiliarised himself with Canadarm2 robotic arm operations at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany.
Once it is clear which spacecraft Thomas will fly on, and the launch date has been set, he will start training for that spacecraft.
Continuing the momentum
This mission will be the second for Thomas, a member of ESA’s astronaut class of 2009 who first flew to the Station for a six-month mission in 2016.
During his first mission, known as Proxima, Thomas performed around 50 scientific experiments for ESA and France’s space agency CNES. He also took part in many research activities for the other Station partners and had a heavy focus on education and inspiration as he shared his journey with youngsters across Europe.
This time Thomas will have a similar focus, and a full schedule of science. He plans to make the most of his time on Earth’s orbital outpost and bring Europe along for the ride.