The International Space Station has been orbiting Earth for over two decades, and the first European astronaut to arrive was Umberto Guidoni on 21 April 2001. This month ESA celebrates 20 years of ESA astronauts on the International Space Station. The next to be launched, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, is scheduled to ride to the Station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on 22 April 2021 under NASA’s commercial crew programme.
Umberto flew to the Space Station on the US Space Shuttle STS-100 mission that was launched on 19 April 2001. This picture shows him in the Russian Zvezda Service Module after opening the hatch between the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft that will fly Thomas to space almost exactly 20 years later is also called Endeavour and leaves from the same launch facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. It will be the first ESA launch from the USA in over a decade.
The 11-day STS-100 mission was the 9th Shuttle visit to the International Space Station and included two spacewalks. The main payloads were the Italian-built Raffaello multi-purpose pressurised logistics module and Canada's giant robotic arm, that went on to help build the International Space Station to the football-field-sized outpost it is today, with three laboratory modules, an airlock and more.
Since Umberto’s mission, there have been 26 further ESA astronaut missions to the International Space Station, with astronauts flying to Station on either the Russian Soyuz or US Space Shuttle spacecraft.
Thomas’ mission will be the 28th mission for ESA, with ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer already lined up for his first flight later this year, and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti scheduled for the 30th ESA International Space Station mission in 2022.
Umberto went on to become a member of the European Parliament after his historic flight.
If you would like to follow in the footsteps of ESA’s space explorers and float around the Space Station, now is the time. ESA is currently recruiting new astronauts. Find your way to space here: www.esa.int/yourwaytospace. The application process closes 28 May 2021.