Technology Space: what will Thomas Pesquet do in the ISS? Five things to know about the French astronaut’s second stay

Space: what will Thomas Pesquet do in the ISS? Five things to know about the French astronaut’s second stay

Six months for the Alpha mission. Thomas Pesquet puts on his spacesuit again four and a half years after his first departure for the International Space Station (ISS). The 43-year-old Frenchman takes off on Thursday, April 22, along with three other space travelers. Franceinfo lists five things to know about Thomas Pesquet’s second stay 408 km above our heads.

1He will be the ISS commander for the second part of his mission

Thomas Pesquet will be promoted to Commander of the Space Station for the second part of his mission, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced in March at a press conference. “I am fortunate to be the first Frenchman at the controls of a space vehicle. It is thanks to history, in the place of France and Europe in manned flights, it is a recognition for everyone”, welcomed the former airline pilot.

“It’s like a boat, there is only one master on board after God”, commented the French. “Obviously, there are a lot of things that are decided at the ground control center”, he recalled. And “People who work on the ground make a lot of decisions in advance. But if there’s one voice in the crew that matters, it’s the captain’s voice.”, he stressed. It is he who supervises the maneuvers in case of emergency.

“When things go badly and you have to react quickly, it’s the commander who decides, who assigns the tasks a little, for example if we have to deal with an outbreak of fire or a depressurization.”

Thomas Pesquet

during a press conference

The French, however, insisted on the knowledge and skills of the members aboard the ISS. “Obviously everyone is competent. There is no need to tell people what to do in an astronaut crew, but there is still that last layer of decision making that falls to the station commander.”, he noted.

2He must complete four spacewalks

Thomas Pesquet’s stay will be marked by four extra-vehicular outings, in other words in space, outside the ISS. Main objective: to install new solar panels. “We need a little more electricity. We have 76-80 kW or so, and we would like a little more”, detailed the astronaut. These scrolling panels fit into large tubes “about 350 kg”. “These are really somewhat ambitious outings”, commented Thomas Pesquet, specifying that they will take place “at the end of the station”.

During his first stay aboard the International Space Station, Thomas Pesquet has already carried out excursions. But to be up to speed, to get back to level, he had to follow new training. He agreed to comment for “Special Envoy” on footage of his hundreds of hours of swimming pool training with a diving suit.

Equipped with a “space screwdriver” and pressurized gloves, the astronauts train in all kinds of maintenance operations during their preparation. “It’s not easy, it’s a bit like trying to play the piano with boxing gloves on”, said Thomas Pesquet. Not enough to start the enthusiasm of the French for the four outings on the program: “It’s going to be pretty exciting.”

3He is the first European aboard a Crew Dragon

Thomas Pesquet will be the first European astronaut to board the Crew Dragon, built by the American company SpaceX. This vessel is very recent: its first manned flight dates from May 2020. For the moment, it has only carried two crews. But the Frenchman is confident. “I’m pretty optimistic. In this business, if you focus on things that can go wrong, you tend not to sleep very well at night.”, did he declare.

The astronaut is to leave for the ISS with three expedition partners: the Japanese Akihiko Hoshide and the Americans Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough. The two American astronauts will be in command of the capsule. Thomas Pesquet and Akihiko Hoshide will settle on the sides as mission specialists.

“As soon as it goes badly, it will be up to us to play. If all goes well, we are a priori not extremely involved in the conduct of the flight.”

Thomas Pesquet

in press conference

“It’s an American vehicle, it’s NASA that decides”, recalled Thomas Pesquet. Before qualifying: “Obviously, we do everything in coordination with the crew. There is no decision that can be made without all four being involved.”

4He will conduct a hundred experiments

Thomas Pesquet’s schedule will be loaded during his six months aboard the ISS. The French must carry out a hundred experiments. Twelve of them were designed by the Center for the Development of Microgravity Activities and Space Operations (Cadmos), which is located in Toulouse. These experiments will be carried out in the European module Colombus and aim, among other things, to prepare long-term space missions.

In the viewfinder: the red planet. “The ultimate goal, at least within our reach for the next hundred years, is Mars, because it is the twin sister of the Earth, because it has a very similar history, because it has had many liquid water “, entrusted Thomas Pesquet to “Special Envoy”, on France 2.

Asked about an experience that is particularly close to his heart, Thomas Pesquet mentioned the one involving “mini-brains, brain stem cells (…) in a Petri dish”. The aim is to study the aging of these stem cells to better understand pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Thomas Pesquet will also work for a study, called “Dreams”, which focuses on the sleep of space travelers. Rachel Debs, neurologist at Toulouse University Hospital, explains to franceinfo that we are “be able to monitor sleep which we know is disturbed in space because it will not alternate day-night over 24 hours”. Indeed, on board the ISS, humans “sees the sun rise and set 16 times a day, it is not at all the normal rhythm for the organism and therefore sleep is disturbed for the astronauts”, continues the specialist.

5He will take a blob

Thomas Pesquet will also be accompanied by a blob, an organism neither animal, nor plant, nor fungus. This blob will be cultured aboard the International Space Station, under the watchful eye of the French astronaut.

The blob, a mystery of nature

Composed of a single cell, the “physarum polycephalum” is a living species apart. She has neither a mouth nor a brain, but moves, eats and has amazing learning abilities. Several specimens will be hosted on board the ISS. The goal is to see “if the blob behaves differently in space”, and study “the effects of microgravity and radiation on its evolution”, specified the Cnes.

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