The end of the ISS first half for astronaut Maurer: lunar flight ‘a big dream’
Half of his time on the International Space Station is over for Mathias Maurer. For former European Space Chief Jan Warner, the mission also has a political aspect in the midst of the Ukraine crisis.
After three good months in space, astronaut Matthias Maurer is clear: He’d like to go somewhere higher in space.
“Walking and exploring the moon will definitely remain a big dream – and of course I hope that dream come true,” the 51-year-old told German news agency DPA during the middle of his mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The European Space Agency astronaut, who traveled to humanity’s outpost on November 11 with three colleagues from NASA, is scheduled to return to Earth at the end of April.
“We still have work to do.”
Sarlander says he learned a lot in the lab at an altitude of about 400 km that he didn’t expect. “I actually thought you had more autonomy down the road.” But you need to support the ground teams “almost permanently” to carry out the trials. “We still have a bit of work to do on how to implement this on the Moon,” Maurer says.
For future missions to Mars, for example, “You have to think of something, because it can take up to 20 minutes for a radio message from Mars to reach Earth. And then of course another 20 minutes until you get the answer.” The Moon is only a few days away from the journey away from Earth – the Red Planet, however, is several months away.
Maurer is currently involved in about 150 experiments in the “space community”. For example, plants can be grown in zero gravity. An important attempt, also for flights to the Moon and Mars – to be able to produce fresh food on site. New materials are tested. “The experiments are going very well.” But he himself is only the “executor” and does not evaluate experiments – this is what scientists on Earth did, who “designed it and then sent it.”
“So far, almost all experiments have been successful,” says Volker Schmid, who is in charge of the mission at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). “Here and there were slight changes in the schedule, but that’s normal.” Halfway through, the focus was already on the planned field mission: Maurer is expected to work outdoors for several hours in April. “His job will be to prepare the European robotic arm for action,” Schmid says. Maurer’s three German predecessors on the International Space Station also had overseas missions.
Maurer says the so-called spacewalk is “still on the agenda”. “But as is so often the case in space travel, there are of course some question marks.” There is still work to be done for this to happen. “But I am very optimistic.”
Maurer feels ‘at home’
The 51-year-old from Oberthal still feels “at home on the International Space Station,” he said. “Actually, I don’t really miss anything.” Of course he would like to jump in the water and take a shower or eat fresh fruit and salad. But time passes so quickly. “This is unreasonable. I feel a bit nostalgic because I am in the middle of my mission.”
Former European Space Chief Jan Warner hopes Maurer’s enthusiasm will be contagious. “ESA’s flights are not about personal adventures, but people remain indispensable as a medium to dazzle and motivate,” says the former ESA Director-General. Humans can also describe the beauty, fragility and condition of the Earth more intensely than, say, a space probe.
Space travel has a political side
The current president of the German Academy of Sciences and Engineering points to another aspect: “Human space travel also has a geopolitical impact.” In the midst of the Ukraine crisis, Maurer is currently working with four Americans and two Russians on the International Space Station. “Cosmonauts from different countries bridge tensions on Earth.”
At the end of the week, Maurer completed 100 days on the International Space Station. The astronaut says what he first noticed is that it takes a certain amount of time to adjust to weightlessness. The brain needs “significantly more storage space” to find its way in three-dimensional space. “For normal work and thinking, you have a little less brain capacity than I originally thought.” That’s why I often make small mistakes in experiments at first. It was good for the ground crew to look “over his shoulder”.
On his 52nd birthday on March 18, he’s planning a delicious meal on the space station. On that day, three Russian cosmonauts are expected to reach Earth in the evening, so there will be ten of them. “Then I have to make sure that I still have enough to eat here. Of course I want to serve the best – a bit of Saarland.”