Thomas Pesquet becomes captain of the ISS

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet will fly on April 22, 2021 for his second mission to the International Space Station (ISS). He is the 10th French in space.

Thomas Pesquet is the 10th Frenchman assigned to a flight in space, 8 years after the participation of Léopold Eyharts. The latter installed Columbus, a European microgravity research laboratory, aboard the I.S.S.

In 2009, he was among 8,413 applicants to join ESA’s European Astronaut Corps. He was posted on March 17, 2014, on a long-term mission aboard the I.S.S. to carry out an important scientific and technical program. It was launched on the ISS in November 2016 for the Proxima Mission and will remain there until May 2017.

Who is Thomas Pesquet?

Son of a mathematics-physics teacher and a teacher, Thomas Pesquet was born on February 27, 1978 in Rouen (76). His older brother is an engineer and a teacher.

He studied in Dieppe where he obtained a scientific baccalaureate. In 2001, he obtained his aeronautical engineering degree from Supaéro in Toulouse. He spent a year in the master’s program in aeronautics at the École Polytechnique de Montréal, Concordia University and McGill University.

Career in aerospace

Thomas Pesquet holds various positions in the aerospace industry and at the National Center for Space Studies. In 2005, he became an airline pilot.
In 2008, he applied for membership in the European Astronaut Corps. He joins the European Astronaut Corps at ESA. Thomas Pesquet was assigned in March 2014 to a long-term mission aboard the I.S.S. to carry out an important scientific and technical program. He then applied for an initial 18-month training at the European Astronaut Center (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. During this period, he learned Russian which, along with English, was one of the two official languages ​​aboard the International Space Station. After completing his training, he worked as a communications manager with in-flight astronauts (Eurocom). At the same time, he became a project manager at the EAC. The establishment of cooperation with new partners, such as China, is one of them.


Thomas Pesquet traveled to Europe (Germany), the United States and Russia to receive additional technical and operational training.

In Russia

In Star City, near Moscow, he trains to pilot the Soyuz spacecraft in all situations. The most complex are takeoff, the orbit meeting with the space station and atmospheric reentry. For this purpose, he gets used in a centrifuge to undergo increasing accelerations up to 9 g. He performs practical exercises in the Russian taiga in Siberia. This teaches him how to survive in the event of a landing in a body of water or in an area outside the planned perimeter, for 2 to 3 days.

In the USA

At NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, he learns about the various space station systems managed through a network of around 100 laptops. He is particularly trained in the maintenance of life support systems (management of water, air and gas systems) and spacesuits which will be his responsibility during his stay in space. The space station constitutes a fragile environment, and the astronauts are intensively trained in the emergency procedures to be applied when one of the following three critical situations occurs: poisoning of the atmosphere by ammonia of the thermal regulation circuit, departure fire and loss of internal atmosphere due to a breach in the wall.

Thomas Pesquet learns to operate the Canadarm 2 remote control arm, used to move space freighters, but also astronauts in space. In the basin of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory which contains a scale 1 model of a large part of the space station, Thomas Pesquet, wearing a heavy spacesuit, repeats the operations he will have to perform in the event of a intervention in space requiring a spacewalk.

In 2016, he trekked independently in the mountains of New Mexico to build team spirit during long stays in confined spaces cut off from the outdoors.

As part of NASA’s NEEMO program, he stays in a station under the sea for the SEATEST II (2013) and NEEMO 18 (July 2014) missions. During this phase, he is required to perform a minimum number of hours of sport (4 hours per week) and a complete 2-day check-up every year. Measurements of his bone density are taken to allow comparisons after his mission and thus measure the effect of weightlessness on the skeleton.

In Japan

In Tsukuba in Japan, he gets acquainted with the Japanese space laboratory Kibo, an integral part of the international space station

In Europe

In Cologne, Germany, he trained in all the systems of the European space laboratory Columbus and in the implementation of scientific installations and experiments. The astronaut undergoes theoretical and practical medical training to enable him to perform simple medical procedures such as making a suture, placing an infusion, pulling out a tooth.

In Sardinia, he completed a survival training course in 2011.

Proxima mission

First long-term mission: “Proxima”. It took place on the International Space Station in 2016. Thomas Pesquet held the position of flight engineer for expeditions 50 and 51, as of November 17, 2016. He carried out more than a hundred scientific experiments there in various fields of research. (Man, biology, materials or technological development).

Thomas Pesquet took off to the ISS from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. He was on board the Soyuz MS-03. He carried out more than a hundred scientific experiments there. ESA or CNES developed half of it, NASA the other half. It also performs 2 spacewalks of 6 hours for ISS maintenance missions.

After this first mission, Thomas Pesquet was selected for a second mission in July 2020. He will fly again, in spring 2021, to the Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. He thus becomes the first European assigned to a mission aboard the Crew Dragon, which ESA calls Alpha.

Alpha Mission

On March 16, 2021, ESA announced that Thomas Pesquet will serve as pilot-in-command for part of his stay in orbit. For the first time, a French astronaut is the ISS captain. He will hold this task for about a month, towards the end of his 6 month assignment.

Europe is more and more present in the space station. This command for missions on the ISS is European for the third time in a row.

On April 22, Thomas Pesquet and 3 other astronauts will take off from Florida. This will be the opportunity to carry out experiments in zero gravity. The French should make 4 “extra-vehicular” outings.

German astronaut Matthieu Mauer is expected to join Thomas Pesquet at the end of his stay in space. The two Europeans will work together on the ISS, which is quite rare.

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