photo of Andreas Morgensen in space with longhorn shirt
Astronaut, European Space Agency

Andreas Mogensen, Ph.D. ASE ’07, successfully launched to space today and is co-piloting the flight of the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).  Mogensen, an astronaut at the European Space Agency (ESA), was assigned to the mission in the summer of 2013 and has been training intensively since then. 

Mogensen has trained in several locations around the world, including Star City, Russia, NASA-JSC in Houston, TX, the European astronaut center in Cologne, the Canadian Space Agency in Montreal, and the Japanese Space Agency JAXA in Tsukuba, Japan.

As co-pilot, Mogensen has trained to manually fly the Soyuz spacecraft, dock it to the International Space Station, and land it back on Earth.

“Learning how to control and fly the Soyuz spacecraft has definitely been one of the highlights of my training, and I spent a lot of my time sitting in the Soyuz simulator and running through all the possible failure scenarios,” said Mogensen.

The mission, named IRISS, will last a total of ten days, and will be controlled by a spaceflight control center in Germany. One of the main goals of the mission is to support the one-year long mission of astronauts Scott Kelly (NASA) and Mikael Kornienko (Russia) who have been aboard the ISS since March of this year. Because the Soyuz spacecraft they originally arrived in is only designed to last six months in space and the astronauts aren’t scheduled to return until March 2016, Mogensen’s crew will deliver the new Soyuz to the ISS for the astronauts’ return, and fly the older spacecraft back to Earth.

“Of course, I will make the most of my time onboard the ISS,” said Mogensen. “I have a packed schedule of science and technology experiments that I will conduct while I am in space. Some of the highlights include controlling robots on Earth from space using force-feedback technology, human physiology research, atmospheric science, and releasing student-built cubesats into low-Earth orbit.”

During the mission, Mogensen has also been assigned the exciting task of hunting for thunderstorms. He will be searching for and attempting to photograph natural phenomena known as “sprites,” which are powerful electric discharges that occur high up in the atmosphere. Sprites only last 20 milliseconds at most, so capturing them on camera will be a big challenge. Mogensen will record the thunderstorms from a window in the Russian Pirs module using a reflex camera.

Mognensen has been in good Longhorn company this week in Kazakhstan. NASA astronaut and alumnus Michael Baker, the ISS Program Manager for Soyuz Launch and Landing Integration, is also at the launch site. His role in the mission includes organizing all NASA and international partner activities associated with launching NASA astronauts to the ISS and returning them safely to earth on the Soyuz spacecraft.

Mogensen said he is very excited for the mission, now only one day away. He also looks forward to returning to the UT Austin campus for a visit post-launch.

What’s the future of space travel? And what do you do if you’re wearing a spacesuit and your nose itches? Astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Ph.D. ‘07, answers these and other pressing questions in Alcalde.

Follow Andreas Mogensen for mission updates on the following social media channels:

Twitter: @Astro_Andreas
Facebook: ESAAndreasMogensen

WATCH: IRISS Mission Overview