Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The European Astronaut Centre


HI! It is my pleasure to report that I ~passed~my~MSc~defense~.  I'm almost done! :D Now I need to revise before re-submitting. I've made excellent progress so far, I think.

Next stop for me is Cologne, where I am very, very excited to visit the European Astronaut Centre next week!

Interior of EAC facility. The CSA logo is near the back! Photo credit: ESA - D. Baumbach, 2010
Before I discuss the European Astronaut Centre (EAC), I'll mention that it is located on the premises of the German Aerospace Centre  (DLR - Deutschen Zentrums für Luft- und Raumfahrt) headquarters. I became familiar with DLR at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide last year, learning about their contributions to European space missions, including the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express, the framework for Rosetta, and cameras for Dawn. For our favourite Earth observation technique, DLR launched the TerraSAR-X polarimetric X-Band radar. But I digress.

Staffed by a team of ESA, DLR, industry, and French Space Agency (CNES - Centre national d''études spatiales) professionals, the EAC is a site for selection, training, and flight preparation for ESA astronauts. Here, European-constructed payloads for the International Space Station are tested before flight. The EAC is also a centre for astronaut physiology and nutrition - very important for the future of human solar system exploration. EAC also studies psychology and mental health. Group psychology is a very important factor in the success of isolated team mission work. Our Axel Heiberg Island expedition team in July 2017 filled out surveys in support of a study for team dynamics in extreme environments. I hope that the results of the survey is fruitful for advising the future of crewed space exploration.

A team of astronauts work together to navigate the
Sa Grutta caves system. Photo credit: ESA

What I think is one of the coolest parts of ESA astronaut training are the CAVES and Pangaea programs. Both of these programs are designed to be analogue training courses. CAVES (Cooperative Adventure for Valuing and Exercising) focuses on the behavioural aspects of space missions, whereas Pangaea teaches planetary geology. CAVES places the astronauts in the Sa Grutta caves system in Sardinia, Italy. The teams need to work together to perform different geological, biological, or engineering tasks with an emphasis on communication and problem solving.

Pangaea is a course for training European astronauts in communicating Earth and planetary science with Earth-based science advisors. This course trains the astronauts in planetary geological environments and processes, field note taking and sampling techniques, and astrobiological environments for life on other worlds. The field portion of the course takes place in Lanzarote, Spain, which you may be familiar with from Gavin's recent trip. Lanzarote is an excellent site for studying volcanic processes and for lunar analogue research due to its abundance of cinder cones, lava flows, and fissures.

An astronaut practices interacting with a rover
Photo credit: ES
I look forward to telling you more about my visit next meeting! I really look forward to learning about the recent projects and contributions ESA is making towards the future of crewed space flight.



  1. The term "manned space exploration" is not used very commonly anymore. The preferred term seems to be "crewed" space exploration or "human" space exploration.

  2. Excellent point! I didn't even realize I was using gendered language. I've updated the post accordingly.