Frenchman Thomas Pesquet will be the first European astronaut to take part in a mission by Space X, Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturer.
The European Space Agency (ESA) announced that Pesquet will “ride a Dragon to space”, referring to Space X’s spacecraft that will carry him and fellow astronauts Megan McArthur (US), Shane Kimbrough (US), and Akihiko Hoshide (Japan) to the International Space Station (ISS) on its second mission in Spring 2021.
The astronauts’ names were announced by NASA, which will be working with SpaceX. The mission’s aim is “to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight”.
On the long term, this knowledge will aid future “deep space missions to the Moon and Mars” and help expand commercial “human transportation services” to and from Earth.
“I am thrilled to be the first European to fly on the new generation of US crewed spacecraft,” Pesquet said. “The Dragon spacecraft is a modern machine with amazing new capabilities.”
Pesquet added that it would be interesting to compare the American experience to his first flight with the Soyuz, a Russian type of rocket that has its roots in the Soviet era.
“With Thomas being the first European astronaut to fly to the International Space Station on a Crew Dragon vehicle, this shows that even when using a commercial spacecraft built in the US, the international character of human spaceflight is still given,” General Director of the ESA Jan Wörner said, referring to the international crew.
The ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker added that the ESA “intend[s] that all current members of the European Astronaut Corps will make a second Space Station mission in due course”.
Following French tradition, Pesquet’s mission will be named ‘Alpha’ after the Earth’s closest stellar system, Alpha Centauri.
The Dragon is the world’s first commercial spacecraft to transport humans and can carry up to seven passengers. Its diameters are 8 by 4 metres, and it is able to carry a maximum load of 6,000 kilograms.