On the evening of 17 November 2016, Thomas Pesquet headed into space for a long-duration mission dubbed “Proxima”. He departed on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 17 November 2016 and return to Earth in May 2017.
Accompanied by the Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitski and American NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, the International Space Station (ISS) flight engineer left to perform multiple scientific and educational activities. The aim of this mission is to prepare for future manned flights to Mars, scheduled for 2025-2030 by the USA.
Aged 38, Thomas Pesquet is the first French airline pilot to have this experience. He is also the youngest European astronaut and the 10th French astronaut to take part in an international space mission.
Thomas Pesquet said:
I am truly honoured and proud today to be the first trained airline pilot to have been selected as astronaut. I owe a great part of this selection to everything I have learned at Air France. We have among our flight crews, along with the rest of the company staff unique skills and formidable strengths. I will be proudly promoting the Company on board the ISS and, at an altitude of 400 km, demonstrate the same technical precision as in the cockpits of the 1,600 daily flights operated by Air France and its subsidiaries.
About the Proxima mission
The “Proxima” mission marks a key moment for the European scientific community. Thomas contributes to 62 experiments coordinated by ESA and the CNES French Space Agency. These experiments are designed to improve our knowledge of the human body, physics, biology and demonstrate new technologies on board the International Space Station.
Thomas Pesquet’s mission has been dubbed “Proxima” named after the closest star to our Sun. This name continues the French tradition of naming astronauts’ missions after stars or constellations. Proxima was chosen from over 1,300 entries to ESA’s competition organized in 2015.
Thomas Pesquet’s professional experience
From April to September 2001, Thomas Pesquet did an engineering internship with Thales Alenia Space (Cannes), where he developed a satellite system design tool using concurrent engineering techniques. From October 2001, he worked as a spacecraft dynamics engineer on remote sensing missions for GMV S.A. (Madrid).
Between 2002 and 2004, Thomas Pesquet worked at the French Space Agency, CNES, as a research engineer, on space mission autonomy. He also carried out studies on future European ground segment design and European space technology harmonization. From late 2002, he was a CNES representative at the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems, working on cross-support between international space agencies.
An avid private pilot in his spare time, Thomas Pesquet was selected in 2004 for Air France’s flight training programme. He went on to become a commercial pilot for the airline, where he started flying as First Officer on board the Airbus A320 in 2006.
He was selected as an astronaut in May 2009. He joined ESA in September 2009 and completed his basic training in November 2010. After graduation, he worked as a Eurocom, communicating with astronauts during spaceflights from the mission control centre. He was also in charge of future projects at the European Astronaut Centre, including initial cooperation with new partners such as China.
To be ready for a space mission, Thomas Pesquet receives additional technical and operational training in Europe, Russia and the USA – on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, on the US and Russian spacesuits, and on the International Space Station systems. Thomas also takes part in exploration training courses. In 2011, he took part in ESA’s underground cave training course and, in 2012, NASA’s Seatest-2 mission organized in a submarine base.
On 17 March 2014, Thomas Pesquet was assigned to a long-duration mission (approximately six months) on the International Space Station, scheduled for November 2016.
Thursday 17 November 2016