RENATE BR"UMMER'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. Br"ummer. 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. Br"ummer, ``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 Br"ummer, describing DLR's two-year basic training regimen.
Br"ummer thinks that a fascination with the applications of what she was learning led her to study meteorology and then to become an astronaut. She studied math and physics as a university student in Munich. The jump to weather forecasting and numerical modeling was not so difficult.
``Meteorology just is a complicated form of applied math,'' explains Br"ummer. She spent seven years in the US, earning a PhD in meteorology from the University of Miami. She worked with the National Oceanagraphic and Atmospheric Administration and with the National Weather Service in Boulder, Colo. Living in the US may also have influenced her decision to become an astronaut.
``Americans can get more easily enthusiastic about things than I think a lot of Europeans do,'' and Br"ummer says she got caught up in that enthusiasm. While at the Weather Service she worked closely with NASA.
For Br"ummer, the most interesting part of DLR's astronaut training program is the chance to continue observing scientific theories being put into practice:
``You get to see the fantastic spectrum of scientific knowledge, and you get to see how everything is linked together.''
In 1992, DLR will be linked together with both the US and Soviet space programs. The astronauts will take part in two space flights - on the US Space Shuttle and aboard the Soviet Mir space station.
``We didn't know about the Mir mission until very recently,'' says Br"ummer. The opportunity to fly with the Soviets came about due to changes in the East-West political climate. The two missions will be very different, Br"ummer stresses.
``The Mir space station is not like the Spacelab,'' she says. ``It is set up for observing the effects of living in space.''
So although the number of experiments will be fewer than on the Shuttle mission, the experience of working closely with Soviet scientists - the world's experts on long-term missions in space - will be very valuable for the German astronauts.