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[b]ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will fly to the International Space Station in 2016[/b]
European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet has been assigned to a long-duration mission on the International Space Station, it was announced today (March 17).
The assignment of the French-born astronaut was announced by ESA's Director General Jean Jacques Dordain in the presence of the French Minister for Higher Education and Research, Geneviève Fioraso, and the President of the French space agency, CNES, Jean-Yves Le Gall.
The announcement was made in coordination with the international partners of the International Space Station.
With Thomas Pesquet's assignment, all six ESA astronauts from the class of 2009 will have flown to the Station on missions within seven years of graduation.
The Director General noted: "Thomas' mission assignment concludes the first phase for our newest members of the ESA astronaut corps which was to make each of them assigned to a spaceflight.
"This is a clear demonstration of the reputation of ESA among the international partners of ISS as well as of ESA astronauts among the international community of astronauts. The flight experience gained by this new class of ESA astronauts is providing a solid ground for ESA Member States to contribute to further international human exploration missions."
Born in Rouen, France, Thomas will be the 10th Frenchman to go to space, following Léopold Eyharts who supported the commissioning and first utilisation of ESA's Columbus microgravity laboratory on the Space Station.
As a partner in the Station, ESA is entitled to use its resources, which include supporting missions of European astronauts.
During Thomas' mission, an atomic clock will be installed on the Station to connect with other atomic clocks on Earth to test Einstein's theory of relativity and allow even more accurate world timekeeping. The results could double the accuracy of satellite navigation, allowing us to pinpoint our location on Earth with even higher precision.
Thomas studied as an aerospace engineer before working as a commercial airline pilot.
ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations and former astronaut, Thomas Reiter, says: "I remember this exciting moment of mission assignment very well, and I'm very happy that Thomas Pesquet is now in this situation.
"There is an exciting road ahead for Thomas, learning all the systems of the International Space Station and the unique scientific experiments that he will conduct in space."
Thomas comments on his assignment: "I am happy to have been selected for a mission but this is just the start of a new phase for me – there is a lot of work to do and a lot to learn before my flight.
"I will consider my dream complete when I am working on the International Space Station."
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