Ulf Merbold

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Ulf Merbold
Ulf Merbold
Country: Germany
Organization: DLR / ESA
selected on May 18, 1978
Calls: 3 space flights
Start of the
first space flight:
November 28, 1983
Landing of the
last space flight:
November 4, 1994
Time in space: 49d 21h 36min
retired on August 1998
Space flights

Ulf Dietrich Merbold (born June 20, 1941 in Greiz ) is a German physicist and former astronaut . In 1983 he was the first West German and the second German in space , five years after the GDR cosmonaut Sigmund Jähn . Merbold was the only German to have been in space three times.


Born as the only child of a teacher couple, Merbold grew up in Wellsdorf , a small town in East Thuringia near Greiz . During the Second World War his father was drafted and was taken prisoner by the Americans . Shortly after his return in 1945, he was arrested by the Soviet occupying forces and taken to special camp No. 2 in Buchenwald . He died there three years later.

From 1945 Merbold lived in Kurtschau , a village near Greiz, with his mother in the immediate vicinity of his grandparents.

School education and academic career

Merbold started school in September 1948, after four years of elementary school he went to a central school and in 1956 switched to the Theodor-Neubauer-Oberschule . There he passed his Abitur four years later. Because he was not a member of the youth organization FDJ , he was not allowed to study physics in the German Democratic Republic . He therefore decided to leave the GDR and begin studying in West Berlin .

In November 1960 Merbold traveled to East Berlin and crossed the then still open border into the western part of the city. He had to attend the local Falk School for a year and passed the West German Abitur because his GDR Abitur was not recognized. Then he was able to start studying physics, supported by a monthly grant of 135 D-Marks . Since the separation from his mother was not easy for him and he was alone in Berlin, he decided after three semesters to go to Baden-Württemberg . In Stuttgart , where his aunt lived, he enrolled in 1962 at the city's University and received his degree six years later. He topped up his pocket money with odd jobs as an assistant librarian and ski instructor and was able to write on his dissertation ("Radiation damage to nitrogen-doped iron after neutron irradiation at 140 degrees Celsius with the help of residual resistance measurements"). In 1976 he was awarded a Dr. rer. nat. PhD.

Merbold joined the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart in 1973 . He initially received a scholarship and was employed as a staff member after completing his doctorate. There he was mainly active in the field of solid state and low temperature physics .

Astronaut activity

In April 1977, what was then the German Aerospace Research and Research Institute was looking for experimenters for the Spacelab space laboratory , whereupon Merbold applied. The European Space Agency (ESA) was looking for applicants to set up its first European astronaut corps . The aspirants were given the prospect of being able to conduct research in the space laboratory built by ESA on board the American space shuttle . A total of around 2,000 scientists submitted their documents - 700 of them from Germany - whereby each of the twelve ESA member countries should only propose one applicant. Of these twelve people, four candidates were selected in December 1977, of which only three remained six months later: in addition to Merbold, the Swiss Claude Nicollier and Wubbo Ockels from the Netherlands.

All three ESA astronauts prepared together to take part in the first Spacelab flight, until Merbold was finally chosen in autumn 1982. Under the abbreviation STS-9 , the shuttle flight was carried out a year later under the command of John Young , making Merbold the first non-US citizen on a space shuttle. 72 scientific experiments in eight disciplines were on the program, from biology to plasma physics and astronomy to materials science .

Subsequently, Merbold, as reserve payload expert and liaison spokesman, dealt with the first purely German Spacelab mission D1 , which took place in autumn 1985. At ESA's Noordwijk site in the Netherlands, he then worked on the planning of the Columbus space laboratory , the European contribution to the International Space Station (ISS), until he took over the management of the DLR astronaut office in Cologne.

At the end of 1988 Merbold was selected as one of the candidates for another Spacelab mission: for three years he trained for STS-42 , the first international company for weightlessness research. For one week in January 1992 he was the first all-German space traveler to do research in space together with his Canadian colleague Roberta Bondar on board the space shuttle Discovery .

After Merbold coordinated the scientific aspects of the second German Spacelab flight D-2 , he began training at the Yuri Gagarin cosmonaut training center in Moscow in August 1993 . Together with the Spaniard Pedro Duque he trained for the European-Russian cooperation flight “Euromir 94”. Duque was chosen as the replacement for the German who set off for his third space flight with the cosmonauts Alexander Viktorenko (commander) and Jelena Kondakowa ( flight engineer) on the Soyuz TM-20 spacecraft at the beginning of October 1994 . Merbold worked as the first ESA astronaut on the Russian Mir space station for a month and completed the longest stay in space by a Western European to date. He carried out around 30 experiments. The return was with the Soyuz TM-19 spacecraft . The landing capsule is exhibited in the Technik Museum Speyer.

In January 1995 Merbold, who has a professional pilot's license and more than 3000 hours of flight experience, took over the management of the astronaut department of the European Astronaut Center in Cologne. After three years, ESA sent him to Noordwijk, the Netherlands, to the European Space Research and Technology Center , where he worked in the Directorate for Human Spaceflight. There he was responsible for preparing the ISS for use. Merbold's task was to familiarize industry and research institutions in the ESA states with the possibilities of the space station. In 1996, he was awarded the Golden Lot in honor of the Association of German Surveying Engineers.

Ulf Merbold, 2011
Bremen, handprint in the Lloyd-Passage

Merbold has been retired as a spaceman since 2004. However, he has a consultancy contract with ESA and gives lectures on the subject of “Science in Space”.

In 2012 he said in an interview with the editor-in-chief of Fliegerrevue that one of the most important tasks of humanity in the 21st century should be a manned flight to Mars .


Merbold has been married since 1969. He married his student sweetheart Birgit Riester in the chapel of Solitude Castle near Stuttgart. With her, the highly decorated spaceman has a daughter and a son. Merbold lives with his wife in Stuttgart .

Merbold has an amateur radio license . His callsign is DB1KM. During his stay with Mir in 1994 he used the callsigns R0MIR and DP3MIR.

In his free time, Merbold spends a lot of time gliding . He owns his own glider.

In 2008 he left his handprint on the Mall of Fame in Bremen.

Since September 9, 2010 the grammar school in Greiz bears the name " Ulf-Merbold-Gymnasium ".

Merbold has been a member of the Staufer Friends Committee since 2013 .


Special features and records

  • first West German in space (STS-9) (see Sigmund Jähn )
  • first foreign astronaut on a NASA mission (STS-9)
  • first six-person space flight (STS-9)
  • first German with two space flights (STS-42)
  • first German with three space flights (Euromir 94)


  • D1 - our way into space ; Braunschweig; Westermann; 1985; ISBN 3-07-508886-2
  • Flight into space. From Spacelab 1 to the D1 mission ; Bergisch Gladbach; Lübbe Publishing Group; 1986; ISBN 3-7857-0399-6

See also

Web links

Commons : Ulf Merbold  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Jochen Stahnke: From above you don't see any limits. FAZ, November 28, 2008, accessed on December 18, 2013 .
  2. Philipp Schwenke: One answer, five questions. Zeit Online, June 19, 2009, accessed December 18, 2013 .
  3. Alexander Stirn: The man who wanted to go into space. Süddeutsche.de, May 17, 2010, accessed December 18, 2013 .
  4. Ulf Merbold. In: Who's Who. Retrieved December 18, 2013 .
  5. ^ Karl-Heinz Böckstiegel: Manned space flight: legal aspects in the light of scientific and technical development: proceedings of an international colloquium, Cologne, May 20-22, 1992. C. Heymanns Verlag, 1993, p. 251
  6. Soyuz capsule arrived in Speyer. Morgenweb, May 3, 2010, archived from the original on May 7, 2010 ; Retrieved August 16, 2010 .
  7. FliegerRevue interview with Ulf Merbold at AERO 2012. youtube, May 16, 2012, accessed on August 28, 2012 .
  8. School history. Ulf-Merbold-Gymnasium Greiz, archived from the original on May 17, 2013 ; Retrieved June 12, 2013 .
  9. Failed tragically. Interview with Ulf Merbold. Retrieved December 13, 2013.
  10. ^ Neil Armstrong Space Flight Achievement Award. American Astronautical Society, accessed May 7, 2017 .
  11. Order of Merit of the State of Baden-Württemberg - List of medal holders 1975-2016. Retrieved May 7, 2017 .
  12. ^ Haley Space Flight Award Recipients. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), accessed May 7, 2017 .
  13. Günter Haaf: Useless and expensive. Zeit Online, January 20, 1984, accessed May 7, 2017 .
  14. Merit holders since 1986. State Chancellery of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, accessed on March 11, 2017 .
  15. Merbold, Ulf Dietrich in the Encyclopedia Astronautica , accessed on May 7, 2017 (English).