Dr. Thomas Reiter is Europe’s most experienced astronaut who spent 350 days in space onboard the Mir and International Space Stations. He is the Director at ESA, responsible for ESA’s human spaceflight activities, the Space Situational Awareness Programme and the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Thomas Reiter was fascinated with space as a child. But space had been the prerogative of the Americans and Russians, and not for the likes of a little boy from Germany.
After completing school, the aid glider pilot joined the air force, but kept at his passion and studied aerospace engineering at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Neubiberg, which is near Munich. After graduation, Thomas went on to continue his training as a jet pilot at the Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, USA.
In 1989, Thomas Reiter got his chance and went for it. The European Space Agency was looking for pilots and scientists to train as astronauts. Thomas applied, and was selected one of the six lucky ones to complete the programme from out of 22,000 candidates. After completing six months basic training, he was selected for the 1993 Euromir 95 mission, the second SEA mission to the Mir Space Station. These missions formed part of the preparation for Columbus, the European space laboratory on ISS, the International Space Station.
The Euromir 95 mission was a first in many respects. It was the longest ESA manned space mission, totaling 179 days, while Thomas Reiter became the first German to carry out a spacewalk. His time in space saw him carry out 41 scientific experiments.
“Anyone who works in a space station for a long time is, of course, happy when he is allowed out the door. You can not be closer to the universe. You work on the outside of the station, move at 28,000 kilometers per hour, and have a view that can never be seen through a window.” – Thomas Reiter
His return from space saw him continue his training, qualifying as a commander for a Soyuz-TM three crew member capsule – one of only a few non-Russians with this qualification – before being reassigned to the air force. This was of short duration, as, in 1999, Thomas Reiter once more returned to ESA in order to train for a long-term mission on the International Space Station, and the first European selected for such a long stay. The Astrolab mission, as it was called, laid the foundation for the use of the Columbus laboratory onboard the International Space Station. The mission launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with Thomas being the first European carrying out certain vital tasks on the space station, being responsible for navigation, situation monitoring, and monitoring of environmental conditions and living systems. He also performed nineteen experiments during this period.
As a speaker, soft-spoken Thomas Reiter binds audiences with his compelling anecdotes and stories, gaining your attention right from the get-go. Besides being an astronaut, Thomas has conducted numerous experiments spanning various technologies, all of which he is imminently able to explain while showcasing their importance.