Egalement ingénieur aérospatial, il est détaché au début des années 1990 à l’ESA et travail sur la navette Hermes et le module Columbus.
En 1992, il est sélectionné par l’ESA comme astronaute, et part s’entraîner à la Cité des Etoiles en août 1993 pour la préparation de la mission Euromir 95.Il effectue sa première mission spatiale, donc avec Soyouz TM-22 / Euromir 95 entre le 3 septembre 1995 et le 29 février 1996, où il restera 179 jours dans l’espace. Il effectuera deux EVA lors de cette mission.
|(Le Groupe ESA de 1992)|
Il effectue sa deuxième mission spatiale du 4 juillet au 22 décembre 2006 avec Expedition 13 / 14 Astrolab (aller et retour en navette / vols STS-121 et 116). Il restera 171 jours dans l’espace.
Il totalise en tout 350 jours dans l’espace. Il est le non-américain ou non-russe qui est resté, à ce jour, le plus longtemps dans l’espace.
Depuis avril 2011, il est le Directeur des Vols Habités et des Opérations (D/HSO) de l’ESA à l’European Astronaut Center de Cologne.
Interview réalisée en novembre 2013
How many years were you connected to the space program prior to your 1st spaceflight?
I was appointed to ESA's Astronaut Corps based at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne in 1992.
After completing my basic training I was selected for the 95th Euromir mission.
The according preparation began in August 1993 in Swjosdny Gorodok ("Star City") in the vicinity of Moscow. This is where I prepared for extra-vehicular activities in open space and trained to operate the Soyuz capsule.
Appointed as flight engineer on board the MIR space station, I also had to undergo some onboard-engineer tasks.How did you feel prior to the flight ?
Preparing for my first mission was an exciting time.
Everything I learned was a completely new territory for me. Every day was associated with new challenges and the joy for my first flight was constantly growing.
The training phase prepared us for many things, but not for the view out of the window, looking at Earth.Even when one has seen many photos taken from space, reality is something completely different - the numerous colours, the arc of the horizon, the thin shell of atmosphere.
I got to know the feeling of gravity during the parabolic flights I took before my mission, but in this context the sensation only lasts for 30 seconds.
It was therefore something totally new to experience this feeling on an ongoing basis throughout a period of six months, a feeling which I had to get used to.
What does weightlessness feel like, and what did you think about during the flight?
There is a lot you need to learn in weightlessness, especially about your own movements.
You have to spend much less energy and be more careful with everything.
During the flight I felt constantly thrilled to have the opportunity to work on a space station and conduct experiments in a new environment. The highlights during my first flight were of course the two EVAs in space during which I could see Earth directly through the glass of my helmet.What were some of the problems you encountered and how did you fixed them?
Of course we had a few little issues on board, just like we would have had some on earth too.
As an astronaut it is necessary to be able to react to any situation without outside help.
I once recovered an experiment with the strings of my guitar for example, to the delight of the scientists on Earth. Reliance on the team on board is also indispensable.
My experience in space has shown me that only human beings, thanks to their skills and competences, are able to react to unforeseen situations.
|(L'équipage Euromir 95 avec l'équipage de STS-74 qui a pris cette photo de MIR)|
What did you eat, and did it taste real?
Before my flight, I had the chance to choose my meals for the mission according to my taste.
In weightlessness however the taste buds work differently than on Earth and you get the feeling that you need to have much more salt.
I was always especially looking forward to the arrival of the re-supply spaceship as it always had fresh fruit on board.
Since your muscles regress during the flight you have to do at least two hours of exercise every day while in space.
The re-entry is the first step towards readaptation to Earth’s gravity.
During the return flight the increasing gravity is spread over the entire body.
Once you are back on Earth you then have to learn how to deal with gravity again. It takes about a couple of days to get used to it again.
The feeling of weightlessness is unique.
Once you know it, you would like to experience it again and again. But not only that, the view of Earth from space is also unforgettable.