André’s PromISSe mission extended on Space Station

Soyuz TMA-03M docked with the ISS
Soyuz docked to Station

28 February 2012
ESA astronaut André Kuipers will stay on the International Space Station for more than a month longer than originally planned. In addition to his normal routine he will spend some of the extra time conducting scientific experiments.
The Station partners have agreed that this expedition will be prolonged following a delay in the launch of the next Soyuz crew ferry.

Routine testing revealed problems in the original Soyuz spacecraft, requiring that it be replaced. The new date for André and his crewmates to return to Earth is 1 July – he will now stay on the Space Station for over six months.

The extra time André has in space does not mean he will have time for extra work because the science and maintenance activities continue regardless of which astronaut is available to do the job.

Owing to the delay, the Space Station will operate with only three crewmembers for a longer period than originally planned.


Soyuz TMA-03M docked with the ISS
Space food

Science experiments
André has already completed some of his experiments. He was the tenth astronaut to follow the special SOLO diet to understand why astronauts lose bone density in space.

For five days, André ate only a third of the salt found in a normal diet. The results may offer insights into how bones age on Earth and could be used to combat diseases such as osteoporosis.

André completed the DSC experiment in the European-built Microgravity Science Glovebox, looking at temperature changes in mixtures of different fluids.

The results of this experiment will contribute to improving computer models used in oil drilling.


Andre Kuipers using ESA's Neurospat testing equipment
André records his brain waves

André recently shared a picture from the Space Station wearing what looked like a bathing cap. Worn for the Neurospat experiment, it is actually a complex network of electrodes for measuring his brain waves.

A total of 64 electrodes were carefully and precisely placed on André’s head by colleague Don Pettit. The goal is to understand if the brain processes some tasks differently in space.

André has also finished the Roald2 biology experiment on human immune cells. Astronauts’ immune systems work less effectively in space and scientists are trying to find out why.

Immune cells taken from volunteers on Earth were chemically frozen on the Space Station at specific intervals. By looking closely at the cells once they return to Earth, scientists hope to gain insight into the workings of the human immune system.

There are many scientific experiments still to finish. Maintenance work waits for no one so André and his crewmates will be busy keeping the Space Station running smoothly.

In the highly unlikely possibility that André has time to spare, the scientists on Earth have a set of ‘back-pocket’ activities available that could be conducted at short notice should the opportunity arise.

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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 (


ESA astronaut André Kuipers arrives at the Space Station

Soyuz TMA-03M on approach to the ISS
Approaching the Space Station

23 December 2011
ESA astronaut André Kuipers and crewmates Oleg Kononeko and Don Pettit docked today with the International Space Station in their Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft. They will work aboard the Station now for five months and return to Earth in May.
ESA’s fourth long mission on the International Space Station began on Wednesday, when the Soyuz rocket roared into the evening sky from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

After circling the globe for the last two days, the spacecraft docked at 15:19 GMT (16:19 CET) this evening, 23 December.

The automated rendezvous sequence began about two hours before docking, but the crew, led by commander Oleg Kononenko, were ready to take over manually if required.


TV image from the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft
View to the Soyuz spacecraft after the launch

A routine arrival
Preparing for arrival, the crew closed the hatch between the two Soyuz modules, donned their Sokol pressure suits and carefully monitored the approach and docking sequence.

Soyuz slowly flew around the Station and spiralled in to perfect alignment with the Earth-facing docking port of Russia’s Zarya module.

With TV cameras transmitting views of the Station, Soyuz fired its small thrusters for the final approach.

After docking, a firm connection was confirmed and, when pressure checks found no air leaks, the crew removed their suits. The pressure was equalised between the two vehicles and the hatch to the Station was opened.


Soyuz liftoff on Wednesday

Mission full of PromISSe
During his mission, PromISSe, André will conduct more than 25 ESA experiments and around 20 for NASA and Japan’s space agency, JAXA, including human research, biology, fluid physics, materials science, radiation research and technology.

His mission also features a strong educational aspect centred on the theme ‘Spaceship Earth’.

The lessons from space will educate children in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as illustrating the requirements for life on Earth.


Expeditions 30 and 31 crew members wave goodbye to the crowd
Greeting audience at the launch pad

As part of ‘Mission-X: Train Like an Astronaut’, André will invite thousands of students to perform physical exercises and classroom lessons to compete with teams around the world to become as fit as astronauts.

Following his mission is easy: André is tweeting on @astro_andre and writing his own mission diary in Dutch (‘Logboek’) with English translations.

The PromISSe blog covers the whole mission and it’s also an ideal way to post questions and comments.

For more information about the mission, take a look at

Expedition 30 Soyuz Rolls to the Pad

The Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft is rolled out by train on its way to the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Monday, Dec. 19, 2011. The launch of the Soyuz spacecraft with Expedition 30 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of Russia, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut and Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers is scheduled for 8:16 a.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 21.

Image Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi

Soyuz TMA-03M Mission Patch

Soyuz TMA-03M Mission Decal

Expedition 30 Embroidered Patch

André is ‘go for launch’ and has arrived to Baikonur

Arrival to Baikonur
Arrival to Baikonur

9 December 2011
ESA astronaut André Kuipers is now officially ready for liftoff on 21 December: he and his crewmates have passed their final exams and left for the launch site yesterday. Along with André’s plane, his PromISSe mission blog also took off yesterday.
Every crew destined for the International Space Station must endure two days of final exams in the simulators at Star City near Moscow before they are cleared for flight.

And it is not a formality — they have to show they can control their Soyuz spacecraft and handle the Station in all situations.


Selecting the envelope prior the simulation
Selecting the envelope prior the simulation

The crew and their backups must cope with a multitude of problems, chosen blindly in sealed envelopes that morning.

André’s Soyuz simulation started with a broken radio transmitter, forcing them to fly solo without hearing a word from Earth.

Then the automatic horizon sensors failed and they had to control their craft’s attitude themselves.

Finally, just before docking, the Soyuz radar took unexpected leave and the trio had to continue manually.


Ceremony at the Russian Federal Space Agency
Ceremony at the Russian Federal Space Agency

The simulated return to Earth wasn’t any easier: real smoke suddenly appeared in their capsule, forcing them to close their helmets, switch the ventilation on and electricity off. They had to purge all the air from the capsule to kill the fire.

Then the braking engine shut off too soon and they had to calculate how long to fire the smaller backup engines.

Finally, the computer refused to turn off the thrusters and they had to do it manually.

If you can handle simulated missions like those, the real flights feel like holiday cruises.


Before departure to Baikonur
Before departure to Baikonur

Final weeks before launch
After passing their exams, the crew began following the traditions that have been part of every human space mission from Baikonur for decades, with roots going back to Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering 1961 flight.

One of these was visiting Gagarin’s office after the exam results were formally approved. The room in Star City has been left as it was since the day Gagarin died.

André and his crewmates wrote a brief salute in the guest book and then continued to Red Square to lay flowers by the Kremlin wall to commemorate fallen cosmonauts.

The crew’s plane took off yesterday at 10.01 local time in Moscow for Baikonur for final preparations and quarantine before their launch, scheduled for 21 December.

Follow André’s blog, tweets and diary
Following an ESA space mission has never been easier. André is tweeting on @astro_andre and writing his own mission diary in Dutch (‘Logboek’). You can now also read his entries soon in English.

A special mission blog was also launched yesterday: the PromISSe blog covers everything around the mission and it’s also an ideal way to post questions and comments.

It is almost like flying with André into space!