Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Training to Be `Super Scientists'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Training to Be `Super Scientists'

Article excerpt

RENATE BRUMMER's life as an astronaut began by reading an ad in a newspaper and thinking, "that sounds like fun." Less than a year later, and after more tests and exams than she cares to remember, the young meteorologist was selected as one of West Germany's five "Science Astronauts."

A visit to the German Aerospace Research Establishment's astronaut training center - known by its German acronym DLR - underscores the uniqueness of the West German space program. One sees no launch pads here, just low buildings set in an area of forests east of downtown Cologne.

"We will never be pilots," explains Dr. Brummer. Instead, the Germans leave the flying to the world's more well-known United States and Soviet space programs and concentrate on training scientists to work in space.

With no rockets of their own, the Germans fly less often than their US or Soviet colleagues. Their time in space is precious and must be used carefully and thoroughly. Astronauts are expected to be completely familiar with the many experiments assembled for each mission.

"We must be able to conduct experiments in many different fields of science - chemistry, biology, physics," says Ms. Brummer, "and all these different experiments are conducted at the same time." Whereas NASA can have one theme for a Shuttle flight (a material science mission, for example), DLR puts together all the experiments it has time for.

Astronauts are then expected to become experts in as many different areas as possible. The German astronauts must become "scientific generalists."

"The whole point of the program is to educate us so that we understand what the experiments are about ... not just pushing buttons," says Brummer, describing DLR's two-year basic training regimen.

Brummer thinks that a fascination with the applications of what she was learning led her to study meteorology and then to become an astronaut. …

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