COLOGNE/BONN He’s back on planet Earth. German astronaut Alexander Gerst has returned from the International Space Station ISS. He landed in Cologne, back on German soil after almost 200 days in space. He looks forward to the rainy drizzle and eating salad.
After a good half year in space, astronaut Alexander Gerst has returned to Germany. On Thursday evening, a plane with the 42-year-old on board touched down in the military part of Cologne/Bonn Airport. Gerst left the plane with a cap on his head and walking upright. "I'm so happy to be coming home again," he said. "To be here in Cologne, where I live, where I'm at home, is especially nice." He is now looking forward to "a big plate of salad".
The astronaut had landed in the Kazakh steppe on Thursday morning in a Soyuz capsule. He had spent almost 200 days on the International Space Station ISS.
In Cologne, Gerst said that as a child he had always thought that space was a very special place. In the meantime, however, he had realized that "The only really special place we know and where we can live, where we can be without much effort: It's the Earth." Even the rather adverse weather was something he could take pleasure in. A day in December with drizzle and cold weather is normally not very pleasant. But for him it was different. "I can smell the ground, the rain," he said. Maybe he'll take a walk through the Siebengebirge soon.
At the airport, Gerst was received by colleagues, acquaintances and some politicians. The former German astronaut Thomas Reiter had also come. With a total of 363 days in space on two separate missions, Gerst has now broken a record. The geophysicist from Baden-Württemberg is now the German who has spent the longest time in space.
Gerst's next destination was the so-called Envihab, a medical research facility of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne. He was to spend his first night there, where he would take part in scientific experiments. His brain was to be scanned in order to draw inferences about the treatment for stroke patients. He said that he was happy to spend his first night on earth undergoing these tests because it was such important work. There will be more examinations in the coming days. But he will be able to spend Christmas in a private setting.
"Yes, he has off on the holidays," explained a spokesman for the European Astronaut Center in Cologne. All he has to do is continue exercising in order to regenerate. On December 27, the work continues. The mission is not over yet as the results still have to be evaluated, the German astronaut said after the landing.
Gerst is feeling the heaviness of gravity. "Everything is extremely difficult", he said. When he lifts things, such as a smartphone, it feels three times heavier - like lead. "Even a sheet of paper feels like a piece of cardboard." All in all, however, he is surprised at how well he is already doing.
The return flight from the ISS to Earth took more than three hours. He survived the landing in the space capsule just fine, Gerst said. But he had to take over some of the tasks of a fellow astronaut as there were some small technical issues with communications. On the ground, the Russian Sergei Prokopiev was first helped out of the capsule, followed by his US colleague Serena Auñón-Chancellor and finally "Astro-Alex" (as he is called in the German media) - visibly happy, waving and in good spirits. He is looking forward to seeing his family again, Gerst said.
Gerst's last video post before his return, a five-minute "message to my (not yet born) grandchildren", attracted a lot of attention on the net. He must apologize for his generation, he says. "Right now it looks like we, my generation, are not going to leave you the planet in the best condition." Humanity is in the process of changing the climate, clearing forests, polluting seas and consuming limited resources far too quickly. The earth is a "fragile spaceship" and he hopes that "we will manage to make a turn for the better".
At times there seemed to be no lucky stars for the ISS mission. In mid-October there was a malfunction during the launch of a Russian Soyuz rocket to the ISS. The two astronauts survived the failed launch thanks to an emergency landing. Two planned field missions by Gerst were cancelled, there were problems with individual experiments, others were delayed or cancelled. A small hole in Gerst's space capsule had caused a stir. The leak was sealed, but the reason for the hole remained unclear.
Whether Gerst will return to the space station again is uncertain. But when asked about it in Cologne, he said: "I mean: After the game is before the game."
(Orig. text: dpa, Translation: ck)