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Germany Meets Its New Astronaut


Cologne   –   Germany was formally introduced to its newest astronaut on Thursday and he’s got his sights set on a trip to the moon.

“It is an unbelievable feeling to have the prospect of travelling to space,’’ Matthias Maurer said at a press conference at the European Space Agency’s operations centre in Darmstadt.

Maurer will have to wait until at least 2019 to be sent on his first mission, ESA Director General Jan Woerner said.

But Maurer is already dreaming big. “Of course the ISS International Space Station is a really great goal at the moment. But the moon would be something that I could imagine doing and would like to do,’’ he said.

With plans to send people to Mars already under way, a lunar mission would be part of that longer-term plan, he explained.

“The moon is a kind of stepping stone for that,’’ Maurer said.

On the moon, astronauts could test and practice techniques that would later apply to a landing on the Red Planet.

Maurer is the second German to join ESA’s active astronaut corps, following the footsteps of Alexander Gerst, who is set to head to the ISS for the second time in 2018.

Maurer, 46, has been put through rigorous training in order to earn his place on the team, including a 48-hour endurance test in Sweden in November that challenged him to survive sub-zero temperatures without food, a tent or a sleeping bag.

Earlier in 2016, he spent 16 days in an underwater space simulation tank. “That means you’re really on another planet.

“Everything there seems alien and unnatural and you know there’s no way out,’’ he said of his time spent at a depth of 20 meters.

Speaking at Thursday’s event, German Minister for Economic Affairs Brigitte Zypries said that space exploration plays a significant role in the German economy, employing around 8,500 people and generating revenues of 2.7 billion dollars.

“As part of the European astronaut team, Matthias Maurer will further advance science and research.

“He can get young people excited about highly complex technology with his work,’’ Zypries said.

The minister regretted that Germany had yet to send a woman into space and urged ESA to consider this when next recruiting.

At the operations centre in Darmstadt, scientists are currently operating 17 ESA satellites in space.

In its most spectacular project to date, the Rosetta mission unlocked the secrets of a comet 720 million kilometers away.

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