Radiation is omnipresent in space and thus affects all astronauts, be they American, European, Chinese, Russian, or from any other part of the world. However, as a German university group, we naturally have a special interest in “our” German astronauts and their European colleagues.
Germany has a long history of manned space flight, dating back to late 70ies (East Germany) and early 80ies (West Germany). Starting with Sigmund Jähn and Ulf Merbold, several Germans participated in Soviet (later Russian) and American space missions. Prof. Ulrich Walter, one of our supporters and now professor at the Technical University of Munich, was one of two German crew members of the Spacelab D2 mission aboard an American Space Shuttle in 1993.
In 1998, the German astronaut team was joined with the astronaut corps of the European Space Agency (ESA). Since then, officially there have not been any German astronauts anymore, but rather German ESA astronauts.
Currently, there are two Germans in ESA’s astronaut corps: Alexander Gerst and Matthias Maurer. While Maurer has only been a member of the corps since 2015 and has not been in space yet, Gerst is a veteran of two long-duration missions to the International Space Station (ISS). In his latest mission, which lasted until 20 December 2018, he became the second European and the youngest astronaut to ever command the station.
As any other member of the crew, Gerst wore a personal dosimeter to monitor his radiation exposure at all times while aboard the ISS. The interesting fact: The newest-generation active dosimeters that he brought back to Earth in his Soyuz spacecraft after a successful on-orbit test were developed by researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne. Tasked with developing new technologies to monitor European astronauts, the group’s objectives are very similar to ours!
We hope that in a not-too-distant future a European (or German?) astronaut will install our experiment in one of the Tango Lab facilities aboard the station and help us to achieve the mission we share with our colleagues from DLR: to make sure we protect astronauts against radiation in the best possible way.
Photo credit: NASA/ESA/Alexander Gerst