It was announced that European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet has been assigned to a long-duration International Space Station (ISS) mission to take place in 2016 on Monday, March 17. The assignment was announced at a press conference by ESA Director General Jean Jacques Dordain with the French Minister for Higher Education and Research Geneviève Fioraso, and the president of the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES, France’s space agency), Jean-Yves Le Gall. Pesquet was selected as an ESA astronaut in May 2009, and hails from Rouen, France. No specific launch date for Pesquet has been announced.
Dordain said of Pesquet’s assignment, “Thomas’ mission assignment concludes the first phase for our newest members of the ESA astronaut corps, which was to make each of them assigned to a spaceflight.” His 2009 astronaut group colleagues – Samantha Cristoforetti, Alexander Gerst, Andreas Mogensen, Luca Parmitano, and Timothy Peake – have been assigned to ISS missions.
Dordain continued, “This is a clear demonstration of the reputation of ESA among the international partners of ISS, as well as of ESA astronauts among the international community of astronauts. The flight experience gained by this new class of ESA astronauts is providing a solid ground for ESA Member States to contribute to further international human exploration missions.”
Pesquet added, “I am happy to have been selected for a mission, but this is just the start of a new phase for me – there is a lot of work to do and a lot to learn before my flight. I will consider my dream complete when I am working on the International Space Station.” With his launch, he will become France’s 10th astronaut in space.
Pesquet is the youngest member of his astronaut class; born in February 1978, he forged a career as an aerospace engineer prior to his selection in 2009. According to his ESA biography, he worked as a trainee engineer with Thales Alenia Space, as a spacecraft dynamics engineer for GMV S.A. (Madrid, Spain), and as a research engineer at CNES from 2002 to 2004.
He also pursued a career as a private pilot. In 2004, he was selected to undergo airline pilot training through Air France, and went on to become a commercial pilot after his 2006 graduation from that organization’s flight school. According to his biography, he began flying the Airbus A320, eventually becoming a flight instructor. He has logged over 2,300 hours of flight time on commercial planes.
After his selection to the ESA astronaut corps, he worked as a “Eurocom” (a communicator with astronauts on spaceflights, similar to the CAPCOM’s in the United States). He has received extensive training in the United States, Europe, and Russia; in one recent ESA video, he is seen studying Soyuz systems alongside his colleague Mogensen. He has also taken part in the ESA’s CAVES course and NASA’s Seatest-2 mission, furthering his experience in exploration (albeit on land and in the sea). He is active in sports, and holds a black belt in judo.
This announcement adds to the many manned spaceflight activities the ESA will engage in over the next two years. In May of this year, German astronaut Alexander Gerst will begin his six-month “Pale Blue Dot” mission on the ISS. Last year, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano flew a long-duration mission, “Volare,” on the ISS. On July 9, 2013, he entered into the history books as the first Italian to undertake an extravehicular activity (EVA). With Pesquet’s addition into the launch manifest, the ESA will continue to make significant contributions to the canon of manned spaceflight.