“This is a great thing for me,” Gerst told press agency DPA in an interview, adding that his appointment for the mission in 2018 was also an important sign of trust from the USA and Russia towards Germany.
“I am humbled by receiving the honour to command the International Space Station… I am particularly looking forward to contributing to one of humanity's greatest exploration adventures: discovering new horizons,” the astronaut told the European Space Agency (ESA) website.
According to the ESA, Gerst's command “will likely see Alexander working with ESA’s Mares muscle measurement machine, researching plasma crystals in weightlessness, and testing new technologies to support ESA’s human exploration programme”.
German astronaut Alexander Gerst pictured during a spacewalk in 2014. Photo: DPA
It won't be the first time that Gerst has blasted off for a tour of duty hundreds of kilometres above the Earth's surface.
The 40-year-old geophysicist from Künzelsau in Baden-Württemberg spent six months aboard the orbiting laboratory in 2014 and garnered a huge following on Twitter and Facebook with his updates about his science experiments and life in zero gravity.
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) 11. September 2014
During his 166 days on board the station he orbited the earth more than 2,500 times, conducted over 100 experiments, and performed a spacewalk lasting more than six hours.
His time aboard the Space Station back then earned him the Order of Merit Medal from President Joachim Gauck.
— Alexander Gerst (@Astro_Alex) 7. Oktober 2014
But he will be even more in the media spotlight as commander, following as he does in the footsteps of big social media personalities like Canadian commander Chris Hadfield or NASA's Sunita Williams.
Gerst will be only the second European to command the station after Belgian Frank De Winne, who now runs the European Astronaut Centre and praised the German's “outstanding performance and high professionalism”.
News of his appointment was released on the same day that Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the German Air and Space Travel Centre (DLR) in Cologne to meet Gerst and fellow ESA officials.