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Swiss astronaut Marco Sieber passes probationary period

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 14 October 2023

Swiss astronaut Marco Sieber has passed his probationary period.

He has completed the first six months of the one-year basic astronaut training. So far, he has had no doubts about his decision to become an astronaut, as he said in an interview with the Keystone-SDA news agency.

Swiss astronaut Marco Sieber passes probationary period
(Source: Twitter.com)

“But it is difficult to be so far away from home, from friends and family,” Sieber said. Since April, the 34-year-old from Kirchberg BE has been training for missions in space at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) training centre in Cologne. Together with four other candidates, he was selected from over 22,500 applicants.

In a few years’ time, it should go much further for Sieber: After completing basic training, the new astronauts will be assigned to a mission. The rest of the training will be tailored to specific mission tasks. More specifics, he said, have not yet been decided. “My first flight to the International Space Station ISS will probably take place between 2026 and 2030,” Sieber said.

Desired destination: the moon

He has no fear of that. “You are psychologically prepared for it during the entire training,” said Sieber. Besides, the six months that you normally spend on the space station would pass quickly, Sieber said with conviction.

Sieber’s dream destination is the moon. “No European has yet been able to take a step on another celestial body. That would be very special,” he said. On the other hand, he could not imagine a mission to Mars at the moment. “I wouldn’t do a one-way mission. The technology is also not so far at the moment that you could get to Mars in a safe way. When the technology is then so far, then maybe it will look different.”

Lots of theory lessons

So far, Sieber and his colleagues in the astronaut class have had to learn mainly theory. The aim of the basic training is to build up background knowledge in biology, medicine, physics and technology, the future astronaut explained. A photography course is also part of the training, he said. “Every week there is a new topic. It’s a challenge to keep everything you’ve learned in your head,” Sieber admitted. “I’ve found the astronomy lectures the most exciting so far, but I really look forward to each new week.”

In addition, the astronauts have diving lessons. “To learn how to move around outside the space station, for example to repair something,” Sieber explained. Fitness training is also on the programme at least three times a week. “So that you don’t just fall out of shape when you lose muscle in space,” Sieber explained.

In addition, astronaut trainees learn Russian, according to Sieber. At the end of basic training, they have to master the language up to level B1. This is essential for work in the Russian part of the ISS and for exchanges with Russian colleagues, Sieber explained. However, the Russian war in Ukraine is a big issue at ESA, he said. “Cooperation with Russia has been terminated in many areas. European astronauts used to launch into space with Russian rockets, for example, but that’s no longer done. But the ISS wouldn’t work without Russia and the US.”

Following in Nicollier’s footsteps

Training to become an astronaut is tightly timed, says Sieber. But as a doctor, he is used to a tight work rhythm. “In the hospital I often worked more hours a week,” he says. “There is definitely room for a private life.” He also has a relationship, for example.

The salary of an astronaut is comparable to that of an assistant doctor, he says. “But you don’t get the salary of a doctor with certain specialisations or with a private practice as an astronaut.”

Swiss astronaut Marco Sieber passes probationary period
(Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier – December 1993 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Source: flickr)

In his role as an astronaut, Sieber wants to inspire young people to achieve. Just like the first Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier did. “For me it is still unimaginable to follow in his footsteps,” says Sieber. For him, it was a great honour to have met Nicollier.

©Keystone/SDA

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