Geophysicists Drew Feustel (left) and Alex Gerst (right) train underwater/
Geophysicists Drew Feustel (left) and Alex Gerst (right) train underwater for their off-world duties. Starting next spring, they’ll begin their 6-month stays on the International Space Station. The sign they are holding says “underwater geophysics.” Credit: NASA

In spring 2018, an extraordinary crew for the International Space Station (ISS) is expected to assemble far above our planet, according to a NASA announcement earlier this month. The crew will include two geophysicists, which will make the group exceptional, said Drew Feustel, a seasoned astronaut with a Ph.D. in geological sciences who will serve as a flight engineer for the station’s Expedition 55 and commander for its Expedition 56.

Two geophysicists on one space station crew is hardly the norm. “I believe this will be the first time in history that two geophysicists will be in space together,” Feustel told Eos.

Feustel will launch from Kazakhstan in March 2018 on a Russian Soyuz rocket, NASA announced on 4 January. Two months later, European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, a volcanologist, will join the crew and remain on the space station through November. Gerst will serve as commander for Expedition 57. Both he and Feustel are members of the American Geophysical Union, publisher of

A third new crew member will make another kind of history. Jeanette Epps, an aerospace engineer and veteran technical intelligence officer for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), will become the first African American—man or woman—to join an ISS crew.

New space station astronauts
Drew Feustel (left) and Alex Gerst (middle) will embark on their second ventures to the space station, whereas Jeanette Epps (right) will start her very first space station mission. Credit: NASA, ESA 

Doing Earth Science from Space

Although the official duties of the crew’s geoscientists will be outside of their research specialties, they will still monitor the globe using Earth observation photography, Feustel said. Such images help geoscientists “study long-term changes in morphology of the Earth,” he noted.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to visit space again and to have a chance to actually live there for nearly 6 months,” Feustel added. He first soared into space in 2009 aboard the space shuttle Atlantis for the final servicing mission to Hubble. He was also on the penultimate space shuttle flight in May 2011, that time on Endeavor.

“Returning to space means that I can continue to contribute to the exploration of the cosmos by humans and for humans,” he continued.

Brotherly Inspiration

Epps will fly to the ISS in May 2018. Selected as one of nine out of 3500 applicants for NASA’s 2009 class of astronauts, she will serve as a flight engineer for Expeditions 56 and 57.

When Epps was 9 years old, her older brother told her she was smart enough to be an aerospace engineer—even an astronaut. Epps went on to study physics at Le Moyne College in her hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., then aerospace engineering at the University of Maryland in College Park. After an engineering stint with Ford Motors and 7 years at the CIA, Epps decided to apply in 2008 for NASA’s then upcoming astronaut class.

Watch a short interview with Epps here:

YouTube video

—JoAnna Wendel (@JoAnnaScience), Staff Writer


Wendel, J. (2017), Geoscientist-rich crew slated for space station next year, Eos, 98, Published on 19 January 2017.

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