ESA astronauts, including Reiter live from space, meet the press at the European Astronaut Centre

For Europe, the spotlight is currently on the International Space Station. With construction of the ISS once more under way, a press conference has been organised at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany for 22 September to highlight present and forthcoming European human spaceflight missions to the Station.

There will be missions involving four ESA astronauts in 2006/07, together with the launch of two ISS modules built in Europe, the Columbus laboratory and Node 2. The Columbus laboratory is one of the cornerstones of Europe's contribution to the Station, along with the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) - the European ISS cargo spacecraft - also due for launch in 2007. The press conference will highlight the important role of Germany and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and more specifically of the Columbus Control Centre at Oberpfaffenhofen; this is at present supporting the European Astrolab mission on the ISS with ESA astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany, and will become the command and control centre for the European Columbus laboratory once the latter has been launched.

The six-month Astrolab mission is the current European focus on the Station, with Thomas Reiter undertaking an ESA experiment programme in addition to his tasks as Expedition 13 Flight Engineer 2. Reiter, who was the first European to become a member of an Expedition crew, on arriving at the ISS on 6 July, will continue his role with the Expedition 14 crew scheduled to reach the Station aboard a Russian Soyuz vessel on 20 September, two days before the press conference. Reiter will be followed into orbit by fellow ESA astronaut, Christer Fuglesang, due to fly to the ISS in December as part of the Shuttle STS-116 ISS assembly mission. This mission will install the P5 truss section and reconfigure the power supply. Fuglesang, who will be the first Swedish astronaut in space, will carry out two EVAs during the mission. At the press conference, Astrolab Operations Manager and ESA astronaut Reinhold Ewald will describe the current status of that mission and give an overview of the STS-116 mission. The event will also feature a live inflight call to Thomas Reiter on the ISS together with the other members of the Expedition 13 and 14 crews. In 2007 two further ESA astronauts are scheduled to take part in ISS assembly missions. Italy's astronaut Paolo Nespoli will be a mission specialist on the STS-120 crew, which will install the European-built Node 2 in the summer, while Germany's Hans Schlegel will be a mission specialist on the STS-122 crew, due to install the European Columbus laboratory in September/October. Both ESA astronauts will be presenting their missions and will also be available after the event for interviews, along with Reinhold Ewald, Michel Tognini (head of the European Astronaut Centre), Gerhard Thiele (head of the Astronaut Division) and ESA and DLR representatives, as well as four members of the Columbus Control Centre (COL-CC) who are carrying out the Eurocom role.

Eurocom is a recently-created function within the Columbus Control Centre and has a role similar to NASA's CapCom or Capsule Communicator. The Eurocom function at the COL-CC will be to act as interface between the Centre and the astronauts in orbit. Once the Columbus laboratory is launched, this will become a permanent flight control position at the Columbus Control Centre.

In addition to this essential communication between the ground team and the astronauts, the health and wellbeing of the astronauts is monitored continuously by a team of physicians (crew surgeons) and biomedical engineers. The medical support group, which is located in a medical control room at EAC, coordinates crew health-care issues with the other ISS partners in real-time, performs routine medical checks and organises regular private medical, psychological and family conferences. Working on two eight-hour shifts during crew awake time on Astrolab, the EAC medical team is getting ready to support complex long-duration missions in an international context.

Media representatives wishing to participate are required to fill in the attached accreditation form and return it to Jean Coisne, European Astronaut Centre, Fax. +49 (0)2203 60 01 112, by Thursday 21 September.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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