100 Days of Space Science for ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet

Thomas’s Selfie During Alpha Mission

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet takes a selfie during his Alpha mission at the European-made Cupola, a dome-like structure with a panoramic window that is used as a control room for astronauts operating International Space Station equipment. Credit: ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet

“I am finding it magical every day, but there is also a lot of routines,” says ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet reflecting on his first 100 days aboard the International Space Station during his second mission. In total, Thomas has logged 296 days in space.

Thomas Blue Marble

A snap of ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet during the second spacewalk to upgrade the International Space Station’s power system, taken by NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough. The duo performed the second extra vehicular activity to bolt in place and unfurl an IROSA, or ISS Roll-Out Solar Array, on Sunday, June 20. Credit: ESA/NASA

The magic and the routine

The magic has had different forms: his first ride on a SpaceX Dragon capsule, more than 20 hours in outer space over three spacewalks, the ever-changing sight of Earth and the camaraderie with his crewmates – including the very first Olympic Games in space.

ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Crew Mates Very First Space Olympics

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and his crew mates held the very first space Olympics as the Olympic Games started in Tokyo. For crew cohesion and fun, they put together a friendly competition between the Soyuz team and the Dragon team. Credit: ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet

Just over three months into his Alpha mission, Thomas has seen seven spacecraft come and go, the 20-year-old Pirs module leaving for good and the arrival of Nauka with a very special passenger, the European Robotic Arm.

Pirs Undocking

The Pirs docking compartment left the Space Station after 20 years of service and burned up safely in the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean on Monday. Its departure made room for the new science module Nauka and the European Robotic Arm. Credit: ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet

Routine comes down to science – repetition is part of any research, and space is no exception. More than halfway through the mission, Thomas has supported numerous European and international experiments in microgravity. 

Since Thomas is quite busy, we asked the scientists supporting the mission on the ground to help us pick up a few experiments from the over 200 investigations that are on his schedule, with 40 European ones. This is what they chose.

Alpha Spacewalk

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet riding Canadarm2 during the first spacewalk of his Alpha mission on June 16, 2021. Credit: NASA–S. Kimbrough

Grip and Grasp

Thomas’ first large-scale European experiment in space was a familiar one: he set up the Grip and Grasp equipment back in 2017. Four years on he is running the experiments himself by wearing a virtual reality headset and grasping objects while motion trackers record his arm movement and speed. 

Grip and Grasp are two neuroscience experiments looking into how our brain takes microgravity into account when grabbing or manipulating an object. The studies help identify the workings of the vestibular system that keeps our balance.

Muscle tone with Myotones

Astronauts experience muscle weakening in space. The Myotones experiment monitors the muscle tone, stiffness, and elasticity of the astronauts’ muscles with a non-invasive, portable device on the Space Station. 

Thomas completed the first two science sessions together with NASA astronaut Megan MacArthur. A total of 12 astronauts will be taking part in it to identify the best countermeasures and improve the lives of many people affected by strained muscles.

Foam of Coarse

The Foam-Coarsening experiment ran a new batch of cartridges in the Fluid Sciences Laboratory of the European Columbus module. Credit: NASA

Stable space bubbles with Foam Coarsening

Observing foams on Earth is tricky because the mixture of gas and liquid quickly starts to change. Gravity pulls the liquid between the bubbles downwards and the foam starts to collapse back to a liquid state. 

But in space foams are more stable because the liquid does not drain in weightlessness. The Foam-Coarsening experiment studies foams in depth for better applications on Earth, such as improving food production, light-weight structures for aircraft or radiology equipment in hospitals.

Ultrasonic Tweezers

The Ultrasonic Tweezers experiment aims to test the principle of moving objects without any physical interaction. Credit: CNES

Ultrasonic Tweezers and Pilote

Thomas conducted an experiment last week looking at manipulating objects using acoustics. The Ultrasonic Tweezers experiment aims to test the principle of moving objects without any physical interaction.

Acoustic tweezers could be used to remove kidney stones or deliver targeted medicine. 


ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and NASA astronaut Megan MacArthur run sessions on the Pilote experiment proposed by France’s space agency CNES in the European Columbus module of the International Space Station. Credit: ESA/NASA

Thomas and Megan are running sessions of the Pilote experiment in the European Columbus laboratory proposed by France’s space agency CNES. They have to virtually guide a drone through an obstacle course and grapple a spacecraft with a robotic arm. 

The results from Pilote will help improve the astronauts’ robotic skills not only on the Space Station, but also for operating rovers on the surface of the Moon and Mars.

100 days of ground support

Most of these experiments are closely followed from the ground by the User Support and Operations Centres across Europe. Teams behind the scenes assist the astronauts in real-time in case of anomalies and monitor the progress of the experiments. 

Together, they work for Thomas’ mission success.

CADMOS Control Room

The Centre d’Aide au Développement des activités en Micro-pesanteur et des Opérations Spatiales (CADMOS) is the human spaceflight department of the French Space Agency (CNES) and one of the User Support Operation Centres distributed across Europe. These centres support European activities and experiments on board the International Space Station. Credit: ESA/CADMOS-F.Derache

Thomas Looking Out the Window

ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet returned to the International Space Station on April 24, 2021, taking a new ride to space, the SpaceX Crew Dragon launching from Florida. The trip took 23 hours and Thomas took a series of images from the capsule and shared them on his social media channels. Commenting on this image, he said: “Admiring the view, but when you launch from Cape Canaveral, you mustn’t forget the sunscreen… I didn’t have this problem in Baikonur!” Credit: ESA/NASA–T. Pesquet

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