|Mission Specialist Christer Fuglesang||
"Of course, it's fun to be the first."
When Discovery reached orbit on the STS-116 mission, Christer Fuglesang became the first Swedish astronaut in space. He is flying on the mission as a representative of the European Space Agency.
Image to right: STS-116 mission specialist Christer Fuglesang. Credit: NASA
Fuglesang, who holds a doctorate degree in experimental particle physics, remembers exactly when his journey toward spaceflight began. "That was in the summer of 1990, when ESA showed ... the Swedish National Space Board they were announcing that they were looking for astronauts," he said. "It was kind of like a classified ad in the newspaper. A friend of mine found it, and he told me, 'Hey, I've found a new job for you.' And I thought he was joking.
"But I'd always kind of had in the back of my mind I would like to go to space if I ever get a chance. I didn't really have a clear picture of becoming an astronaut, but I wanted to go to space if I could. So I made a pretty quick decision, 'Ja, of course I’m going to apply.'"
Following his selection, he spent several years in Russia, supporting ESA's participation in the Russian Mir space station program. "That was quite an experience," he said. "When I applied to become an astronaut for ESA, there was just the thought that, 'Yeah, you go to NASA eventually. It may be you stay in Europe first, then go to NASA.' There was not a word about Russia. And then, I got selected; and one of the first things they said was, 'Hey, be prepared to go to Russia in a year.' I was not so popular in my family at that time. But eventually that was really an experience which I really value."
In 1996, he came to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to go through astronaut training with a group of NASA astronaut candidates. He returned to Russia briefly in 1998 to become one of the few non-Russians who are certified to command a Soyuz spacecraft during landing. Since then, he has supported the Mir and International Space Station programs from Johnson Space Center.
STS-116 is Fuglesang's first spaceflight. He is performing the first two spacewalks, which will help continue assembly of the space station.
And, of course, he'll also have the responsibility of inspiring the next generation of Swedish explorers. "I think and I hope that it will kind of mean a lot to Sweden," Fuglesang said of his historic role, "and that they will see the joy with space, the adventure, the future of space, raise interest of space. Not only space, but raise interest by young people to study for engineering, technical sciences, science in general.
"If I can help doing that, I'm very happy."
David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services