In a world first, LPR 2012 was launched from space by astronaut André Kuipers in the International Space Station, in collaboration with the European Space Agency. See André's message to the planet at the end of the account below.
A fully assembled and operational International Space Station received ESA astronaut André Kuipers in December 2012 for the fourth European long-duration mission to the orbital outpost.
André launched on 21 December from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan, on a Soyuz spacecraft as flight engineer for Expeditions 30 and 31, together with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and NASA astronaut Don Pettit. They remained in space for nearly six months as part of the resident, international six-astronaut crew.
This was André’s second visit to the ISS after his 11-day Delta mission sponsored by the Dutch government in April 2004. Back then he was also launched on a Soyuz rocket. “It feels like going back home, but the house will have doubled its size since my last visit,” says André. During Delta, the Space Station had only four main modules (Zarya, Unity, Destiny and Zvezda) and two permanent crewmembers.
André performed the 11-day Delta mission in April 2004. He was assigned then as flight engineer for a Soyuz flight sponsored by the Dutch government. The mission was important from logistics aspect: it made possible the rotation of ISS crew and Soyuz capsules, which serve as the Station’s crew lifeboats.
André also served as backup to ESA astronauts Pedro Duque for the Cervantes mission in 2003 and Frank De Winne for the OasISS long-duration mission in 2009. He is familiar with microgravity conditions thanks also to his participation in several parabolic flight campaigns, where he was active in testing instruments for human physiology research.
This tailored training has taken him to Houston in the US, Star City near Moscow, Tsukuba near Tokyo, Montreal in Canada and the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany.
Roughly half of his training took place in Star City. André spent approximately the other 40% of those 30 months in the US, and the remaining 10% divided between the European Astronaut Centre and the facilities of the Japanese and Canadian space agencies. More than 50 people took care of André’s training programme from across all establishments.
André flew in the left seat in the Soyuz for his previous mission in 2004. Since then, he gained a much better operational understanding of what is really important for daily life on the ISS.
André is a highly skilled astronaut with an advanced training level that enables him to face all kinds of emergency situations, prolonged isolation and psychological stress. Specialised trainers taught him critical launch and landing procedures on the Soyuz, as well as how to handle depressurisation, fire or toxic spills onboard. This kind of training started on the ground, but it continued on the Station with the rest of the crew.
He is not only trained for critical decision-making: André was trained to run all the experiments he was involved in. The ‘doctor aboard’ provided continuous feedback about his health and the medical experiments where he was the test subject. On the Station, André often took samples of his blood, checked his heart beat and monitored his eyes.
André made use of the scientific facilities on the ISS, and especially in the Columbus laboratory. This European module provides scientists with a unique laboratory to conduct world-class research. Since 2008, Columbus has been Europe’s ‘entrance ticket’ to the ISS and ESA’s largest single contribution to the orbital outpost.
Around 30 experiments were carried out during the PromISSe mission covering a wide range of disciplines. André performed an extensive science, technology and education programme for the benefit of life on Earth, but also in preparation for future global human exploration missions.
Just one week in space is enough to alter the dilation of blood vessels, increase cardiac output and lower blood pressure. There is a headward fluid shift, giving astronauts a distinctive ‘puffy face’ and ‘chicken legs’ appearance. CARD tries to understand how weightlessness affects the regulation of blood pressure. André’s cardiac output was measured repeatedly along with analysis of blood samples to give a better insight into clinical conditions such as congestive heart failure.
Astronauts lose bone density while in space. European scientists are researching salt retention and related human physiology effects by analysing blood and urine samples for markers indicating the effects on bone metabolism. Samples were taken during two special diets followed by André, one a low-salt diet, the second a normal salt level diet. This metabolically controlled study will help to shed light on bone physiology in space and on Earth. This could be especially useful for evaluating the optimal sodium intake for long missions without any negative effect on astronauts’ health.
Passing through a doorway seems quite an easy task on Earth. In orbit, the neurological processes we use to undertake this are no longer a reliable reference and could lead to erroneous estimates of physical dimensions. PASSAGES was designed to understand how perception strategies evolve in the absence of gravity. Rather than viewing a true physical opening, André saw images displayed on a computer screen and made judgments (yes or no) as to whether he could pass through them.
When André enters microgravity conditions, some of his fluids, such as blood and lymph, flow very quickly from the lower part to the upper part of his body. Changes in his heat balance are also linked to this fluid shift physiological effect. During André’s daily exercise and rest time, the ThermoLab experiment used a non-invasive measuring technique in order to accurately record his core body temperature adaptation under reduced gravity conditions.
The preservation of astronauts’ aerobic capacity is a major goal of exercise countermeasures during space missions. A widely used measurement for endurance capacity is the maximal volume of oxygen used during exhaustive exercise. André was a subject of EKE which assesses an alternative, more optimal method of measuring endurance capacity by reducing the time spent on assessment.
André Kuipers launches WWF Living Planet Report from ISS
Observing Earth from far above, ESA astronaut André Kuipers is acting as a world ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which issued its flagship publication the Living Planet Report today. The WWF Living Planet Report measures changes in biodiversity by tracking 9000 populations of more than 2600 of the world’s species. André wrote the foreword to the report and is doing his part to show how fragile our world really is.
We only have one Earth
André has been concerned about our planet since his last mission to the International Space Station in 2004. He has been sending us images that show the impact humans are having on our climate.
“We only have one Earth. From up here I can see humanity’s footprint, including forest fires, air pollution and erosion – challenges which are reflected in this edition of the Living Planet Report,” said André.
The report illustrates how our demand on natural resources has become unsustainable. By 2050, two out of every three people will live in a city. Humanity requires new and improved ways of managing natural resources.