Behind the scenes at the DELTA Mission
Think about the DELTA Mission and you immediately think of André Kuipers. He is simultaneously an astronaut, a scientist, a pilot and an explorer. However, there are also hundreds of people working behind the scenes to make his spaceflight a success, from technicians to organisers, and from astronauts to project managers.
The following are just a few of the people who make the DELTA Mission possible.
Greta Bertuletti, logistics manager (Age: 29, Nationality: Italian)
"I sort out all the practical matters in preparation for the Soyuz flight. For example, the gear for the experiments has to be shipped out. This is a complex business, not only because of the distance to Russia and Kazakhstan, but also because many people of various nationalities are cooperating in the experiments. This mixing of cultures makes my job really interesting. Working with the Russians, for example, is very different from discussing things with Germans or Dutch people. Something we all have in common is science; we are one big scientific community."
Marco Bacchetti, mission integration coordinator (Age: 34, Nationality: Italian)
"The closer we get to the launch date, the more exciting it becomes for us in mission integration. We prepare everything that has to go on board the Soyuz and then take it to the launch base at Baikonur. You can feel the excitement right up to the final day, because with just twelve hours to blast-off, some experiments still have to be loaded on board. Our task carries great responsibility; without us, André would only be able to carry out some of the experiments in space."
Janneke Gisolf, University of Amsterdam medical researcher (Age: 26, Nationality: Dutch)
"I am doing the CIRCA and HEART experiments for my doctoral thesis at the University of Amsterdam. Both the experiments are intended to show how people's blood pressure reacts in weightless conditions. For example, there is the question of whether the 24-hour rhythm of our blood pressure on Earth is also maintained in space. I also carried out blood pressure experiments with the Spanish mission. So all in all, I have made numerous trips to Star City, where the astronauts train, and I still enjoy looking around there."
Marine Le Gouic, coordinator for physiological experiments (Age: 46, Nationality: French)
"During the Spanish mission with Pedro Duque, we lost some data on a blood pressure experiment because of a problem with the batteries. Of course, that will not happen a second time – I will make sure of that. Apart from the equipment for physiological experiments, I also coordinate the collection of data before and after the flight. This is needed as a basis of comparison for the experiments on board the Space Station. I have previously worked on the Spacelab D-2 mission in 1993, the Euromir in 1995 and the STS 107 Shuttle flight. With a new mission every six months, the workload is enough to drive you crazy. It is extremely busy, but also highly enjoyable."
Reinhold Ewald, ESTEC operations manager (Age: 37, Nationality: German)
"It may all sound rather complicated, but what an operations manager actually does is ensure that the flight goes without a hitch. He ensures that the astronaut has some time to himself and yet also has time for the experiments and the occasional chat with the press. There are only so many hours in the day, and opinions vary as to how they should be spent. The operations manager catalogues all these opinions and eventually makes a decision. From my own experience as an astronaut, I know that you cannot know everything when you are on board the Space Station. You have to rely on the ground crew. Communication has to be brief, clear and accurate, and it is my job to ensure that it is."
Giovanni Gravili, planner (Age: 29, Nationality: Italian)
"You never have enough time on board the International Space Station. For that reason, you need to help the astronauts to work as efficiently as possible. A proper time schedule is needed and that is what I help to create. It was extremely useful to us that the mission has been extended by one day. André Kuipers will be very busy on board. In principle, we draw up the schedule, but if he has any comments or suggestions for improvement we try to incorporate these. It is a hectic job, all things considered, and we keep our fingers crossed that everything will go smoothly during the flight. During the flight, there is no time to really relax. We know from experience that there will also be plenty to do during the mission."
Freeke Heijman, Ministry of Economic Affairs policy official (Age: 28, Nationality: Dutch)
"The Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science have made the DELTA Mission possible from the financial point of view. A lot of work had to be done before that decision was made. Once the decision had been made, things began moving fast in my work. I have to organise the VIP trip to the launch for the Ministry of Economic Affairs, ensure that all the officials from the various ministries are working in harmony and organise press conferences from space, with the Minister for example. Normally, I am only concerned with policy formation. This is much more concrete, enormously exciting and, of course, a unique project – one for the history books."
Rogier Schonenborg, coordinator of student experiments (Age: 32, Nationality: Dutch)
"ESA is unique when it comes to the student experiments. It is not something the Russians and Americans do. I have coordinated the entire process, from the competition to the result, and now I am busy with the preparations for the BugNRG and GraPhoBox experiments. It is a complex process, with a lot of paperwork and contracts. Students can sometime be a bit rebellious and they do not follow the usual channels. They also have trouble sticking to deadlines now and then. Nevertheless, it all makes the work very interesting. Eventually, the experiments have to be loaded on board the Soyuz just before the flight. Like a carton of milk, they have a definite 'use by' date."
Michel van Baal, PR officer (Age: 32, Nationality: Dutch)
"There is enormous interest in the DELTA Mission. I make sure that all the contacts with the press run smoothly and that journalists have the chance to interview André Kuipers. He has an extremely busy schedule so close to the mission, which leaves him with little time to spare. Nevertheless, we try to facilitate interviews – by telephone, for example. In addition, I coordinate André's diary on the radio and on the website. Together with my colleagues at the ESA headquarters in Paris, I organise the press trips, web chats with children and interviews from space."
Joost Spierings, legal officer (Age: 52, Nationality: Dutch)
"Many countries work together to realise a mission like that of Kuipers', and each one of them has its own wishes. These wishes all have to be set down in a contract. This is the fourth mission that I have worked on. This is the best yet, because the astronaut is a fellow Dutchman. I can see the results of my work appearing in the news. It is like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle. The last piece has to be in place before the rocket is launched. At that point, my work will be complete and I will be able to sit back and enjoy it."
Frank De Winne, Crew Interface Coordinator (Age: 43, Nationality: Belgian)
"Although André's activities on board are planned meticulously, we still discuss things with him on a daily basis during the mission. I am the one who maintains this contact with André from the TsUP mission control centre, just outside Moscow. I was on board the International Space Station in November 2002 during the Belgian Odissea Mission, so I am also able to help André on the basis of personal experience. Regular meetings are held twice daily to discuss the agenda. This mainly concerns the scientific experiments. The Crew Interface Coordinator is supported by an entire team of specialists to deal with really detailed questions. The team members are spread throughout various European countries, but they can lend assistance rapidly via live communication channels."
Ron Huijser, coordinator for Dutch Space (Age: 53, Nationality: Dutch)
"SUIT is one of the experiments that are made at Dutch Space. SUIT is a vibrating vest that André Kuipers is going to try out. We are going to see whether it helps his orientation. A vibrating vest for use in a helicopter already existed, but that was connected to the seat. We have developed a new one for use in space. This contains batteries, monitors and computers so that he can float around freely. The vest also has to fit Kuipers' understudy, Gerhard Thiele. Thiele is much smaller, so we have designed special accessories in case he has to fly."