Meeting of heads of ESA and China Manned Space Agency

Visit of Mr Wang Zhaoyao to ESA Director General
Chinese officials welcomed to ESA

8 October 2012
Wang Zhaoyao, Director General of the China Manned Space Agency, accompanied by the first Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang, met ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain at the Agency’s headquarters in Paris on 8 October.
Mr Dordain congratulated Mr Wang on the successful Shenzhou-9 mission, stating how impressed he had been when learning of the flawless automatic and manual docking with Tiangong-1.

Following earlier discussions, the two sides have agreed to continue talking about possible avenues for cooperation between ESA and the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).


A delegation from CMSA and the Chinese Astronaut Centre will visit the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne in the near future with a view to sharing experiences in astronaut training.

Another potential area of cooperation could be joint scientific experiments carried out on the Tiangong space laboratory.


Learn to dock ATV the astronaut way

ATV-3 and ISS thrusters firing in unison

11 April 2012
Do you have what it takes to be an astronaut? ESA is making actual astronaut training available on your computer and tablet, so you can see for yourself.
ESA’s third Automated Transfer Vehicle, ATV Edoardo Amaldi, has safely docked with the International Space Station. ATV is the largest supply ship to fly to the Space Station. A truly international team effort, ATV-3 brought fresh food, fuel and supplies to the Station.

ATV docking training
ATV training on Station

Although this spacecraft has sophisticated automatic docking systems, astronauts on the Station are trained to ensure a safe docking. On Earth, ESA’s astronaut instructors have shown them how to do the job. The astronaut instructors are often overlooked but they are a vital part of Space Station operations.

Astronauts spend their working life training for every possible scenario. Up to half a year can pass from the moment an astronaut receives ATV training until an actual docking. To make sure that astronauts are still on the ball when the time comes, the European Astronaut Centre developed refresher courses that astronauts follow while on the Station.


ATV training on Earth
ATV training at Astronaut Centre

These refreshers courses are designed to work on laptops but astronauts will soon use tablets, because they have to be able to follow the courses while orbiting 400 km above Earth. Two sets of these lessons are now available for the home user to try.

Astronauts continuously monitor ATV’s approach during final docking phases, ready to act to if necessary. Lesson one, a regular webpage, lists possible malfunctions, how to recognise them and what to do to avoid further problems.

Once docked, astronauts cannot simply open the hatch and access the fresh food ATV brings. Lesson two shows in 3D the steps required to enter the vehicle safely: from opening the hatch and turning on the lights, to connecting air ducts and installing acoustic covers.


ATV training 3D screenshot
ATV 3D training

Don’t be surprised if the lessons are very technical – basic ATV training takes more than two weeks on ground even for real astronauts, including one-to-one sessions with ESA astronaut instructors. The simulators on Earth reproduce ATV docking with higher fidelity, but the mobile versions have been adapted to the needs of astronauts on the Space Station.

The lessons work best with Internet Explorer and need the Cortona 3D viewer plugin installed.

Mobile users can download an iPad/iPhone version of the lessons from the app store. 

ATV-2 Embroidered Patch  , ATV-3 Embroidered Patch  , ATV-4 Embroidered Patch 

ESA’s blogging astronauts on the road to space

Alexander Gerst
Alex spacewalk training

24 February 2012
ESA’s astronauts-in-training have a busy schedule. From their base at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, they are travelling all over the world to learn the skills required to fly in space, blogging as they go.
The new astronauts are learning how to live and work on the International Space Station in the countries of all the Station’s partners: Europe, Canada, America, Japan and Russia.

You can now follow their trials and triumphs by following the blog written by the astronauts themselves: Samantha Cristoforetti, Alexander Gerst, Andreas Mogensen, Luca Parmitano, Timothy Peake and Thomas Pesquet.

Soyuz training
Andreas and Luca trained in January in Russia on the Soyuz spacecraft at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow.

Andreas is now back in the Netherlands, where he continues working as a navigation specialist on ESA’s Lunar Lander project to the Moon.

Luca is staying on in Russia to learn the rendezvous and landing procedures in preparation for his Expedition 36 to the Station in 2013.


Winter survival training
Thomas collecting firewood

Samantha, Luca and Thomas recently finished winter survival training, an important part of all Soyuz training. There is always the possibility that a Soyuz could descend into a remote, cold area.

All astronauts have to learn to survive in harsh climates while waiting for rescue. “The survival training is no walk in the park,” remarked Thomas. “A lot of time is spent collecting firewood to keep warm.”

Thomas is still at the Gagarin centre with Timothy where they are learning to use Russian Orlan suits for spacewalks.

Should future missions require them to venture outside the Station to install new equipment or collect samples, they will need to know how to use the Orlan suits.

To simulate floating in space, they will don the suits before being lowered into a large diving pool. The Gagarin centre’s pool includes life-size mockups of Russian Station modules to make the training as realistic as possible for the astronauts.


ESA astronaut Samantha Christoforetti starting a fire
Winter survival training

Samantha left for the USA last week to start training on robotics and spacewalks in the American spacesuits. She will be reunited with colleague Alexander, who has been in Houston since January and will stay there until March.

Alex is training for his first flight, Expedition 40, for launch in 2014. He is being introduced to the Station’s US systems as well as learning to use amateur radio equipment.

More travel
Further trips include Canada to learn all about the Station’s robotic arm and Japan to train on Japan’s Kibo module.

Their work in America, Russia and in Germany at the European Astronaut Centre is far from over: the new astronauts will return regularly for further training.

Keep up to date on their progress by following the ESA astronaut blog. 

 •  Astronaut blog (
 •  European Astronaut Centre (
 •  Europe’s astronauts (
Follow on Twitter
 •  @astrosamantha (
 •  @astro_luca (
 •  @astro_andreas (
 •  @astro_alex (
 •  @thom_astro (


Space Lab student competition on YouTube attracts 5500 teams

ESA joins YouTube Spacelab

25 November 2011
ESA astronauts will join Google and YouTube managers on 30 November to present highlights of the ‘Space Lab’ competition. Space Lab is challenging students around the world to design a science experiment for the International Space Station.
Launched just seven weeks ago, Space Lab has already attracted 5500 experiment proposals by registered team and individual competitors – and the dedicated YouTube site has recorded 14 million views.

Space Lab, supported by ESA, was initiated by YouTube, NASA, Japan’s JAXA space agency, Space Adventures and Lenovo. It challenges students around the world to design a science experiment to be performed on the International Space Station.

Space Lab site accessed 14 million times
“By late November, a stunning 14 million views had been registered at the Space Lab YouTube site,” said Fernando Doblas, ESA’s Head of Communications.

“Owing to the large number of excellent submissions received, many coming from Europe, the Space Lab campaign partners have decided to extend the deadline for submission of experiments from 7 to 14 December.”


ISS as seen from Discovery
ISS seen from Space Shuttle Discovery

30 November at ESA’s Astronaut Centre, Cologne
On Wednesday, ESA astronauts Frank De Winne, Reinhold Ewald, Christer Fuglesang, Thomas Pesquet and Timothy Peake will join campaign managers from Google and YouTube to present highlights of the venture to international media at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.

ESA experts will also be on hand to discuss the latest aspects of the Agency’s science activities on the Space Station.

A highlight of the event will be presentations by selected European student competitors of their proposed Space Lab projects. Presentations will be streamed live via
About Space Lab
Individually or in groups of up to three, students aged 14–18 years may submit a YouTube video describing their experiment to

A panel of prestigious scientists, astronauts and teachers, including the renowned Professor Stephen Hawking, astronauts Frank De Winne, Samantha Cristoforetti and Timothy Peake of ESA, Leland Melvin of NASA, Akihiko Hoshide of JAXA, Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency and Cirque du Soleil’s founder Guy Laliberté, will judge the entries with input from the YouTube community.

Six regional finalists will gather in the USA in March 2012 to experience a zero-gravity flight and receive other prizes.

European finalists will win a visit to the training facilities of the European Astronaut Centre. This will include scientific discussions and a personal tour led by European astronauts.

Finally, two global winners will be announced, for their experiments to be sent into orbit and performed on the Space Station in summer 2012 – live-streamed on YouTube from space.

ESA: Mission accomplished: cave crew returns to Earth


The caving team after return to the surface
The caving team after return to the surface on 21 September.

Take five astronauts and instead of sending them into space take them underground. ESA’s CAVES venture prepares astronauts to work in an international team under real exploration conditions. The latest ‘crew’ has returned after six days in the dark.
Sardinia is not only a popular Mediterranean holiday destination but also an excellent place for astronaut training. The island’s interior has isolated mountains and forest areas, rugged and savage.

ESA’s astronauts passed their survival training there, and two of them recently returned with American, Russian and Japanese colleagues.

For six days they lived and worked in the island’s complex cave systems – some of them unmapped or unexplored.


Space-like conditions
“Even for astronauts, life in the dark, cool, humid underground environment can be a completely new situation with interesting psychological and logistical problems,” notes Loredana Bessone, astronaut trainer at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.

View of the valley of the CAVES course during the 'dry run' prep


“The cave environment is isolated from the outside world. There is confinement, minimal privacy, technical challenges and limited equipment and supplies for hygiene and comfort – just like in space.”

This is not the first time she has taken a training team into the caves, but this was the first with such an international team: ESA’s Tim Peake and Thomas Pesquet were joined by Randolph Bresnik from NASA, Norishige Kanai from Japan and Sergey Ryzhikov from Russia.


In cave during the preparatory training


“It was a rare opportunity to experience problems encountered during a space mission in a training environment,” says Tim.

“Our mission required teamwork and working through problems as a small international team where different cultures and primary languages require consideration.”

Thomas praises the team and good organisation: “Everyone was focused and we had a great time together.”

“Being in a cave was something like mountaineering, but much more challenging – with isolation, darkness and the need for full situational awareness to avoid snagging ourselves on sharp rocks or crevices.”


Camping in cave


Real exploration
The daily routine was organised around timelines, as on a space mission. Planning sessions were held twice a day through a dedicated telephone line to a support team at the cave’s mouth.

“The most exciting moments were the times when we were in unknown passages and had to make decisions on how to proceed and how to organise ourselves,” explains Thomas.

“We encountered underground lakes, had to decide if we used ropes or an inflatable boat … should we continue together or divide into small groups … and so on.”

Their scientific work included mapping, photography, monitoring air flow, temperature and humidity, and taking geological and microbiological samples.


Thomas Pesquet on the second day of exploration


Action-packed to the last moment
“It took about five hours to come back from the cave to our campsite, requiring technical caving and a support team to help us,” notes Tim. “We really had a feeling of being far away.”

“When we came back, everything on the surface looked strange: the blue of the sky and other colours looked painted and all the smells of nature were so strong,” remembers Thomas. “The real world felt all-too real, exaggerated.”

At the end of the mission, the crew prepared a report, went through a final debriefing and gave a handover presentation that will be used for the next ‘cavenauts’.

Tim summarised the whole experience: “From my point of view, the most valuable part was the personal friendships that were forged between the participants.”


Posing in cave during the orientation phase