On his Alpha mission, Thomas Pesquet will be the fourth ESA astronaut, and the first French one, to assume the position of commander of the International Space Station.
Thomas Pesquet became the tenth French person in space on his Proxima mission in November 2016 to June 2017. In late July 2020, the European Space Agency astronaut was officially assigned to a second mission, Alpha.
THOMAS PESQUET’S PRESS CONFERENCE ON 16 MARCH
This is again a long-term mission (around six months) on board the International Space Station (ISS), but unlike the previous one, Thomas Pesquet will not be taking off from Baikonur on a Russian Soyuz, but from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on board the Crew Dragon C206 Endeavour capsule of SpaceX on behalf of NASA. This flight to the station is called Crew-2.
After an online press conference on 1 March, with his three Crew Dragon colleagues (Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur and Akihiko Hoshide), the French astronaut took part, once again, in a similar event organised by the European Space Agency (ESA). Below, a recording of this press conference.
Thomas Pesquet explained that the planned date of take-off of Crew-2 of April 2021 was the one SpaceX and NASA teams were aiming for. He even specified the time of day, i.e. 06.11, local Florida time, i.e. 12.11 in mainland France. Speaking of the preparation for his mission and the Crew-2 flight, the French astronaut emphasised that “the health situation does not make things easier.”
FIRST FRENCH COMMANDER OF THE ISS
With Crew-2, Thomas Pesquet will be the first ESA astronaut on board a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. And as the ESA’s Director-General, Josef Aschbacher, announced at the beginning of the press conference on 16 March, Thomas Pesquet will become, on his Alpha mission, the first French commander of the ISS and the fourth European to take this position. As a reminder, the previous ESA commanders of the station were Frank De Winne (Belgium) in 2009, Alexander Gerst (Germany) in 2018 and Luca Parmitano (Italy) in 2019-2020.
Towards the end of his mission, Thomas Pesquet should welcome his ESA colleague, Matthias Maurer (Mission Cosmic Kiss). Indeed, Matthias Maurer will arrive at the station with the Crew-3 flight (Crew Dragon capsule), before the French astronaut’s return to Earth (unless the schedule changes). The two European astronauts will therefore share some time up there.
Thomas Pesquet also mentioned the scientific experiments he will be working on during his mission, reminding us that the ISS is a laboratory in orbit. He explained that the research carried out up there covers fields as varied as material physics or biology, detailing, in particular, those devoted to medical purposes. Thus, protein crystals in weightlessness allow us to study promising compounds for medicine in a way which is impossible to do on Earth.
On a lighter note, he remarked that French gastronomy was awaited with impatience on board the ISS, since his colleagues will know that he will be taking meals intended to be shared. Thomas Pesquet acknowledged that he himself was a “bad cook,” but fortunately, it was not him who would be preparing the planned recipes before they were packed for storage!