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Science

Meet Matthias Maurer, Germany's new European Space Agency astronaut

The European Space Agency has named German scientist Matthias Maurer as one of its new astronauts. But who is the young spaceman? On Thursday, Maurer introduces himself at ESA's Space Operations Center.

There is a saying that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." Germany's new astronaut, Matthias Maurer, applies a similar rule to successful teambuilding. He says "an essential part of teamwork is motivation. And we all know that people are motivated when they've eaten well." 

It's probably not that surprising coming from Maurer. He hails from the German state of Saarland, a region close to France and well known for its rich and tasty cuisine. 

Maurer was speaking about cave climbing at the time. Cave climbing is an extreme sport for some people. For Maurer it's been part of his preparation for becoming an astronaut. And he's almost reached his goal. The European Space Agency (ESA) has officially selected him in its team of astronauts. This Thursday he introduces himself to the media in Darmstadt. And he says he's looking forward to it - in this German tweet - "Ich freue mich." 

A materials scientist for ESA

Not much is known about Maurer. He is 46 years old and holds a PhD in materials science. Besides Germany, he has studied in France, Spain and Great Britain.

Maurer is not new to ESA. In 2009, he applied for one of the most wanted positions as an astronaut - along with Alexander Gerst and another 8500 candidates. Gerst was selected and has since served successfully as ESA astronaut on board the International Space Station (ISS). Maurer was seen as a possible reserve candidate.

But then ESA realized Maurer was too good to keep on hold. ESA hired him, and he has been working at the European Astronaut Center (EAC) ever since. During that time, he has participated in numerous missions, expeditions and trainings.

Cave climbing as part of the job 

This is also how he got involved in a 2014 training exercise called "Cavenauts." Deep inside a mountain, a team of international astronauts had to remain in caves for several days and face all sorts of unusually difficult situations. They had to explore unknown territory and prove their physical and psychological ability to handle stress in a constructive way as a team - under such difficult circumstances.

Is it useful for space? One possible scenario could be a long-term mission to the moon - where ESA would eventually like to built a permanent research station.

Maurer was also a member of a team during another celestial simulation called "Pangea." The participants were kept in a space that looked geologically similar to the Moon or Mars, and there they prepared for future missions. Maurer spent time at a simulated space station on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, with not much more for comfort than volcanic rock and gravel.

Catching up on social media?

Matthias Maurer will almost certainly remain in Gerst's shadow for some time. Gerst became a celebrity astronaut and ambassador for human space exploration. During his first ISS mission, he touched the hearts and minds of millions, posting countless beautiful photos and moving comments on Twitter.

Gerst returns to the ISS as its commander in 2018 - a move likely to give his popularity another boost.

Next stop: Moon or Mars? 

But that is unlikely to discourage Matthias Maurer, whose next task is to conclude his astronaut training and learn Russian. Then all that's left is for him to keep plugging away at Twitter. At the time of writing, Maurer has roughly 1250 followers on Twitter. His handle, in case you're wondering, is @Explornaut. By contrast@Astro_Alex has almost half a million followers.

And Maurer's time in space will come - perhaps on a trip to the moon. Maurer has looked into this possibility intensively. He may even become the first German to live on the moon - at least temporarily.

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