“Houston, we have a problem”: this radio message from outer space in 1970 marked the beginning of one of the greatest dramas in the history of space flight, which then ended happily. Astronauts still use radio technology for a direct link to the earth. But new means of communication have been added. Someone who is well-versed in these is the German astronaut Alexander Gerst. On 28 May 2014 he flew in a Russian space capsule to the international space station ISS as science astronaut and flight engineer in the mission “Blue Dot”. There he carried out over a 100 experiments from various scientific disciplines. Two German researchers, Thomas Reiter and Hans Schlegel, were already on board the ISS before him. But Gerst is the first German who has let earthlings take part in everyday life: almost daily he sends a message to his nearly 174,000 Twitter “followers” and 160,000 Facebook “friends”.
He documents his pre-eminent view of the earth with stunning pictures and arresting comments. On 25 July 2014, for example: “As astronauts, we have a singular view of our planet from the height of 400 kilometres. Things we see everyday on the news and regard almost as given make a very different impression from our perspective. From outer space, you can’t recognize any borders. We see only a unique planet enveloped in a thin and fragile atmosphere, floating in the vast darkness of space. From up here, it’s plain that mankind is one on earth and shares the same fate …”. Filled with awe, he contemplates the earth from the bird’s eye point of view. On 25 June 2014 he wrote: “Today I saw my first shooting star. From above. A bit eerie when you think about it …”. Or on 5 July 2014: “I’ve always wondered what the eye of a hurricane looks like. Scary!
#Arthur“. And he also tells about everyday life on board the space station, as on 7 June 2014: “Saturday is cleaning day on the space station; each of us cleans 3 modules (me: Columbus, Kibo and Destiny)”.
He sends the posts and tweets to earth in his spare time. Because the crew’s roster is full. But for the “greatest pastime in the world”, Gerst made time: he watched part of the first group match of the German national football team at the World Cup in Brazil, and congratulated the German team on 17 June 2014: “Between 10 hours of scientific experiments yesterday, I fit in 20 mins. #worldcup football. Congratulations! @dfb_team! #GERPOR“.
Alexander Gerst’s return to earth is scheduled for 11 November 2014.