Press Release

Second Space Station mission for Alexander Gerst begins

By SpaceRef Editor
June 8, 2018
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ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst arrived at the International Space Station this morning together with NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Roscosmos commander Sergei Prokopyev, marking the start of Alexander’s Horizons mission.

The trio were launched into space on 6 June at 11:12 GMT (13:12 CEST) in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

After 34 orbits of Earth over two days, the three astronauts aligned their spacecraft with the 400-tonne International Space Station and approached the orbital outpost for docking. The two days were spent in the cramped orbital module of the Soyuz that is no larger than a car. With limited communications and living space the astronauts had time to adapt to weightlessness and reflect on their mission ahead.

The Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft arrived at the 400-tonne International Space Station on 8 June at 13:01 GMT (15:01 CEST) and docked to the Rassvet module. After standard but thorough checks to ensure an airtight connection between the two spaceships the hatches were opened at 15:17 GMT (17:17 CEST) to let Alexander, Serena and Sergei into their home and workplace for the next six months.

During the second part of his mission, Alexander will take over as commander of the International Space Station, only the second European to do so, after Belgian ESA astronaut Frank de Winne in 2009. ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano will be the third European commander next year during his mission in 2019 – a show of trust in European know-how and training for space by the Space Station’s international partners.


The mission is called Horizons as a symbol for the unknown and what lies beyond. The mission further cements ESA’s know-how for living and working off-planet. Alexander will be testing ways of operating and working with robots to develop techniques required for further human and robotic exploration of our Solar System such as commanding rovers while orbiting another planet.

Plans to build an international gateway between the Moon and Earth are being discussed this month with Europe supplying key parts such as a habitation module and the service module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft to ferry astronauts, supplies and parts.

An advanced life-support system built in Friedrichshafen, Germany, is set for launch and installation while Alexander is on board. It will allow for humans to live farther away from Earth as it requires less frequent supplies through better recycling of air and water. Next year the Space Station’s communications will get a significant upgrade through a European laser communications system installed outside Columbus that connects to the European Data Relay System.

Research in microgravity

Alexander’s Horizons science programme is packed with European research: he will take part in over 50 experiments to deliver benefits to people on Earth as well as prepare for future space exploration. Many of these experiments will take place in Europe’s Columbus laboratory that is celebrating its 10th anniversary in space this year.Easier and continued access to humanity’s micro-gravity laboratory for researchers has been secured with the installation of the first European commercial micro-gravity research service ICE Cubes earlier this week. For a fixed fee any research team can run an experiment inside the European space laboratory Columbus.

Preparing the future

All these activities fit within the European exploration strategy that brings new knowledge, innovation and inspiration to European citizens built around international cooperation to bring societies around the world together. ESA is preparing exciting programmes with our international partners to build a low-Earth orbit economy, return humans to the Moon and bring samples back from Mars.

More information

A press conference is planned with Alexander Gerst from the International Space Station on 12 June for European media and will be broadcast live.

Follow Alexander and the Horizons mission on social media via

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Slovenia is an Associate Member.

ESA has established formal cooperation with six Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes as well as with Eumetsat for the development of meteorological missions.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space. ESA also has a strong applications programme developing services in Earth observation, navigation and telecommunications.

Learn more about ESA at

For further information, please contact: ESA Media Relations Office Email:

SpaceRef staff editor.