The final press conference of the crew set to join the International Space Station was conducted behind glass protection to prevent any possible contamination. Nothing was left to chance.
Among them was Belgium’s Frank De Winne. He and his colleagues are to remain in space for six months – it will be the longest space mission since that of German Thomas Reiter in 1996. But De Winne has another claim to fame, he is about to become the first European to command the ISS. At 48, this former Belgian air force pilot has logged more than 2300 flying hours at the controls of various types of military planes. He is a former test pilot, and been on 17 combat sorties for Nato. He joined the European Astronaut corp in 2000 and a year later started training at the Gagarin cosmonaut centre in Russia’s Star City for his first space mission. “Most challenging during this six month mission is of course the augmentation from a crew of three to a crew of six on board the ISS, and trying to keep a crew of six together to make sure that we have a good atmosphere on board and that we can fulfil all the objectives that are given to us is going to be the biggest challenge,” said Frank De Winne. Along with being in charge of operating the space station’s robotic arm, De Winne will also be carrying out an extensive scientific programme. Most of the research will be conducted in the European Columbus laboratory; the module which was attached to the space station last year. Using cutting edge European technology, the time spent in Earth’s orbit is expected to yield vast amounts of scientific data carried out in the specialised surroundings of micro gravity.