Image: Thomas Reiter
German astronaut Thomas Reiter is to fly to the international space station aboard a NASA space shuttle in July, and stay at the orbital outpost during an expedition crew changeover.
updated 4/27/2005 6:13:57 PM ET 2005-04-27T22:13:57

A German will become the first European Space Agency astronaut to spend a full six-month stint on the international space station, the Russian Space Agency said Wednesday.

Thomas Reiter, 46, will participate in Expedition 11 beginning in July and complete his mission to the orbiting space station when Expedition 12 is on board, the agency said in statement. The plan calls for Reiter to ride on a space shuttle on the way up as well as on the way back down to Earth.

Anatoly Perminov, the head of the Russian Space Agency, signed a contract with ESA making Reiter part of the main crew. He will work both on research programs and maintain the station with other crew members.

The station had been limited to two full-time residents since the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts on board. The disaster prompted NASA to immediately suspend shuttle flights, but the agency hopes to resume them next month.

Russia’s cash-strapped space program has worked closely with the ESA, carrying ESA astronauts on research missions to the orbiting station.

Earlier this month, ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori, an Italian, spent eight days on the orbiting lab. He flew up to the station with Expedition 11's crew members, Russia's Sergei Krikalev and John Phillips, then returned to Earth with American Leroy Chiao and Russian Salizhan Sharipov of Expedition 10, who were on the space station since October.

The Expedition 12 crew, NASA's Bill McArthur and Russia's Valery Tokarev, are to fly a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the station in the September-October time frame to begin their own six-month stint. Since the Soyuz accommodates three crew members, the craft's remaining seat could be taken up by another professional astronaut or a paying passenger.

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