At the end of 2020 ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer was officially assigned to his first mission: a six-month flight to the ISS. ESA Space History Editor Carl Walker spoke to Matthias and patch designer Sarah Poletti for the first Patch Us In of 2021…


Matthias Maurer

ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer is scheduled to fly to the ISS as part of SpaceX Crew-3 with NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Thomas Marshburn on the Dragon spacecraft in autumn of this year. His flight follows the launch of SpaceX Crew-2 with ESA’s Thomas Pesquet, scheduled for springtime. Originally from Saarland in southwest Germany, Matthias has studied in four different countries, gained a doctorate in materials science engineering and achieved national recognition for his research. He joined ESA’s Astronaut Corps in 2015 and is the only ESA astronaut who has not yet flown in space.


When his assignment was announced, Matthias also revealed the name of his first space mission, which is Cosmic Kiss. He describes this carefully selected mission name as ‘a declaration of love for space’.


“I wanted to communicate the special connection the Station provides between Earth’s inhabitants and the cosmos,” says Matthias. “The name also conveys the value of partnership in exploring farther to the Moon and Mars, alongside the need to respect, protect and preserve the nature of our home planet as we seek a sustainable future on Earth.”


The Cosmic Kiss mission patch was designed by ESA’s Sarah Poletti. “Matthias sent me this image of the Nebra sky disc (‘Himmelsscheibe von Nebra’) – the oldest known realistic illustration of the night sky – and was really taken with this idea for a patch,” says Sarah. “He wanted to keep it very simple, taking inspiration from similar designs that used symbols, such as the Pioneer plaques and Voyager Golden Records that were sent on space probes carrying messages from Earth.”


“These artefacts show a fascination with space that spans the ages,” says Matthias. “Since the beginning of time, humans have looked skyward for knowledge about the origins of life, the Universe. I look forward to building on the curiosity and knowledge of those who went before me, and sharing my own experiences as an ambassador for Europe in orbit.”


The patch features several cosmic elements including Earth, the Moon and the Pleiades star cluster. It also depicts Mars, one of ESA’s three key destinations for exploration over the next 10 years, as a small red dot beckoning in the distance. Its most prominent feature is a simplified International Space Station in red – looking almost heart-like – connected through a human heartbeat trace that stretches from Earth to the Moon.


“This heartbeat symbolises the human presence and passion that propels exploration forward and connects us to the Universe,” says Sarah.


Earth is shown borderless and backlit, with only a delicate line of atmosphere visible. This phenomenon is often described by space travellers, who marvel at the wonder of all human life and events taking place in one thin and precious layer.


The patch only has four colours: black, red, gold and white. But as Sarah explains, each colour has been selected for its significance: “Black represents the Universe and its mysteries that we seek to understand. Red stands for love and passion, representing our human presence in space today and the martian soil that awaits us as we explore farther into the Solar System. Gold is for the stars that share their warmth and light to enable life, and white stands for technology and scientific progress, bringing light into the dark.”


ESA astronauts Matthias Maurer and Thomas Pesquet at the SpaceX facility in the USA

Matthias is currently serving as backup crew to fellow ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, but the two may be reunited in orbit later this year. Thomas will be nearing the end of his six-month Alpha mission by the time Matthias is scheduled to arrive for his Cosmic Kiss mission – providing a rare opportunity for two European astronauts to meet in space!