After four months of darkness, the Sun finally rises on 11 August at Concordia research station in Antarctica. The crew are understandably reverent.
ESA-sponsored medical doctor Stijn Thoolen (left) and engineer Wenceslas Marie-Sainte (right) are part of the 12-member crew spending an entire year at Concordia. For nine months they are holding down the base in one of the most isolated, confined and extreme environments on Earth, with no way in or out of the station.
They run experiments in human physiology and biology, atmospheric physics, meteorology and astronomy, among other disciplines, as well as maintain the base – one of only three to run year-round on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Four months of complete darkness is quite the challenge, one researchers are very interested in studying from a physiological and psychological point of view. From questionnaires to blood and stool samples, the crew are poked and prodded to understand how better to prepare humans for deep space travel.
Social dynamics are also of interest to researchers during the period of darkness. Stress brought on by lack of sunlight, changing sleep patterns, fatigue and moodiness can affect the group. The crew are especially encouraged to take on group activities and get creative to combat the isolation of the winter.
The first sunrise is always a remarkable moment, signalling the home stretch of their Antarctic residency. From now on the winter crew will start preparing for summer and the return of scientists that arrive for the warmer months starting in November. The base is cleaned thoroughly, machinery is serviced, tents are erected and heated, and the runway is cleared of snow. Extensive work is required to welcome the new arrivals back to the base at the end of the world.
Follow the adventures in science and socialisation at Concordia on the blog.
European science progressed at a slower pace on the International Space Station in the past month. As a series of spacewalks to power up the space habitat came to an end and two of its passengers left for home Earth, intriguing bubbles puzzled researchers and left them wanting to know more.
Image: A laser shoots into the sky to study the Antarctic atmosphere at Concordia research station
European scientists will help select rocks and soil from Mars in the search for life on our planetary neighbour.
ESA astronauts Matthias Maurer and Thomas Pesquet train for their upcoming missions to the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, USA.
A refresher for Thomas and a first for Matthias, the pair are pictured here during emergency vehicle familiarisation training in the International Space Station mockup.
Due to the current situation with COVID-19, all personnel are required to adhere to special safety precautions while training. These include wearing a mask – as seen in the image.
Thomas has been assigned to the second operational flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, launching in spring 2021 from Cape Canaveral, USA, to the International Space Station. He will be the first European to fly on a Crew Dragon alongside NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.
Thomas’ second mission will be called Alpha. This is after Alpha Centauri, the closest stellar system to Earth, following the French tradition to name space missions after stars or constellations. Watch Thomas’ explanation of the name here.
Meanwhile, Matthias is training for his first Space Station mission. Details of that mission are yet to be established, but for now Matthias is training as the backup for Thomas. As the next two ESA astronauts in line for flights, the pair are working to ensure they fully trained and ready.
Matthias will continue his training in Houston over the next weeks and months and is sharing his experience with everyone. Watch Matthias during spacewalk training here (also available in German and Spanish).
Wondering how training differs after a trip to space? The guys discuss in the first of a series of Astro Chats.