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Thomas Reiter, a former German air force pilot and veteran astronaut, joins six Americans on the Discovery shuttle mission to the International Space Station. Listen hard -- he'll even be playing his guitar up there.
The Discovery shuttle will soon be on its way to International Space Station
The countdown has begun. If everything goes as planned, German astronaut Thomas Reiter will be launched into space in the Discovery shuttle from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday at 9:49 p.m local time.
The 48-year old astronaut from Frankfurt is representing the European Space Agency (ESA) as the only non-American in the seven-person crew. Until now, only Americans and Russians have participated in long term missions to the International Space Station (ISS), the destination of this Discovery mission.
The little blue marble
"The view of the Earth is something that stays with you for the rest of your life," Reiter recently told reporters.
A veteran astronaut, Reiter has seen that "little blue marble" from space several times before. From September 1995 to February 1996, he spent 179 days aboard Russia's now-defunct Mir Space Station. He has also performed two space walks.
Thomas Reiter once spent 179 days in Russia's Mir Space Station
Formerly a German air force pilot, Reiter became an ESA astronaut in 1992. He also participated in the ESA studies of the Hermes manned space vehicle and in the development of equipment for the Columbus module, one of Europe's major contributions to the ISS.
Reiter's job during the several-month mission will be to transfer cargo from the Discovery space shuttle to the ISS.
Globalization of space
Construction of the ISS was first begun in 1998 and is an ongoing project. The five men and two women involved in Saturday's 115th shuttle mission will be responsible for unloading two tons of food onto the space station.
NASA is planning 16 more shuttle flights to continue construction of the ISS. By 2010, the space station should measure 110 meters (361 feet) long, 90 meters (295 feet) wide and 80 meters (262 feet) high.
When Reiter arrives at the ISS, he will meet American astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov, who are currently on board the space station.
The seven-member Discovery crew will spend several months at the space station
Reasons to hesitate
The Discovery mission is only the second since the Columbia shuttle accident in February 2003, when all seven astronauts on board were killed. A mere 700 grams of foam on the outer tank caused the tragedy when it caught fire during re-entry into the atmosphere.
Preparations for Saturday's launch have gone smoothly and given no cause for worry. However, there is a 60 percent chance that the launch will have to be postponed due to weather conditions, a NASA meteorologist told news agency AFP. If poor weather persists, it is possible to postpone the launch for up to 19 days.
Reiter will be leaving his wife and two sons on Earth during his space station stay, but is bringing along some pictures, a computer disk with classical and rock music, and guitar strings. There is already a guitar in the ISS that he'll be able to play.