The 38-year-old from Baden-Württemberg is currently preparing in Kazakhstan and has been keeping his 19,000 Twitter followers up to date with the last week of his preparation ahead of lift-off, scheduled for May 28th.
He will take with him into space a small piece of Cologne Cathedral and a German flag. He has already chosen music for the launch on the central Asian steppe – Rückenwind (Tailwind) by rapper Thomas D of German hip hop band Die Fantastischen Vier.
“I think it must change a person being up there,” said Gerst ahead of his trip.
Gerst, who lists fencing, swimming and running as his favourite sports,will spend 166 days in space orbiting 400 kilometres above the Earth. Before returning this November he will carry out a number of scientific experiments.
“There is a lot to research," he said. "Man has been exploring Earth for three million years but we’ve only been exploring space for 50 years.”
Gerst was selected as an astronaut for the European Space Agency in May 2009 and completed basic training in November 2010.
Since then, the former boy scout has been undergoing further training for the ISS in Russia, the United States and in Germany. He will be heading to the space centre with Russian Maxim Surayev and US astronaut Reid Wiseman.
For him the purpose of the training is to help get rid of any fears astronauts might have of living for months in a small capsule above Earth.
“Fear is a feeling that develops when you think you are losing control,” he said. “We want to avoid that and that’s why we train.”
Gerst’s path to the launch pad has taken him through several universities and degrees.
After graduating from the Technical High School in Öhringen, Baden-Württemberg he received a diploma in geophysics from the University of Karlsruhe and a master’s degree in Earth sciences from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
In 2010 he graduated with a doctorate in Natural Sciences from the University of Hamburg. His dissertation was on geophysics and volcanic eruption dynamics.
Gerst will be the eleventh German to travel into space, the last being Hans Schlegel, who flew to the ISS in 2008.
But he could also be the last to face the final frontier for a while. Russia has announced it plans to end the shuttle flights to the space station from 2020, following sanctions placed on the country during the Ukraine crisis.