The tenth French person in space arrived aboard the ISS on 24 April, travelling on the Crew Dragon Endeavour capsule of the private company SpaceX on behalf of NASA. He was accompanied by Americans Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, as well as Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.
THOMAS PESQUET RECEIVES THE KEY OF THE ISS
That was how Thomas Pesquet joined his comrades from the Crew-2 flight Expedition 65 of the ISS which includes three other astronauts: Russians Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov as well as American Mark Vande Hei (who had previously arrived on Soyuz MS-18). Shannon Walker was in command of the ISS until 2 May 2021, when responsibility was transferred to Akihiko Hoshide. On Monday 4 October, Thomas Pesquet officially became the Commander of the Station during the traditional ceremony when Akihiko Hoshide passed him the key of the ISS (video below).
The key is, of course, symbolic, but it does mark the change of command. Just before handing it over, the previous commander, Akihiko Hoshide told Thomas Pesquet: “You have been an incredible crew-mate and you will be an excellent commander.”
The tenth French person in space then saluted his predecessor’s qualities, humorously stressing his “strange ability” to materialise in the right place whenever help is needed! “I am proud to represent my country,” continued Thomas Pesquet, who added that he was aware that he owed his position as Commander of the ISS to France’s achievements in the space sector. He elaborated, this time in French: “Thank you to all the decision-makers, all the engineers and those who work in the space sector. If today I become the first French person to command a space craft, it is largely to you that I owe it.”
THE FOURTH EUROPEAN AND THE FIRST FRENCH PERSON
The ISS brings together five space agencies: Roscosmos for Russia, NASA for the United States, ESA (European Space Agency) for Europe, JAXA for Japan and the CSA for Canada. We mostly see Russians and Americans as station heads because of the magnitude of their countries’ contributions. However, all the partner agencies have had one of their astronauts as commander at least once. The first for the ESA was Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne in 2009 on Expedition 21. He was followed by the German Alexander Gerst on Expedition 57 in 2018 then by Italian Luca Parmitano in 2019-2020 for Expedition 61. Thomas Pesquet is therefore the fourth ESA astronaut in this post and the first French person. Above all, it is about ensuring that the flight plan is implemented (scientific experiments to carry out, maintenance activities, etc.) while ensuring the crew’s cohesion by solving any disputes if necessary. In the event of an emergency, the Commander is required to make the necessary decisions with the astronauts’ safety as a priority.
It should be noted that Thomas Pesquet is in charge of the station at a time which is going to be rather busy in terms of crew rotation. On 5 October, Soyuz MS-19 will take off from Baikonur with professional cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and two people who will shoot sequences on the ISS for the fiction film The Challenge for the Russian Channel One. These are actress Yulia Peresild and director Klim Shipenko. The station will then accommodate ten people. About 12 days later, they will go back to Earth on Soyuz MS-18 with Oleg Novitskiy. Then on 30 October, a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule (Crew-3 flight) will take off from Florida with European Matthias Maurer, accompanied by his American colleagues Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron (arrival scheduled for the next day). After a few days with eleven people up there, Thomas Pesquet, after transferring his responsibilities to Anton Shkaplerov, will return to Earth with Crew Dragon Endeavour around mid-November with Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur and Akihiko Hoshide.