In 1992, Claude Nicollier, the only Swiss astronaut to date, visited the Gornergrat with the crew of the space shuttle. The idea of a piece of the Matterhorn in space was born.
Switzerland’s first astronaut
On 7 August 1992, Claude Nicollier became the first Swiss to travel into space. The then Federal Councillor Adolf Ogi greeted him in the space capsule from the ground with the words: “Joy reigns, Monsieur Nicollier!”
During the conversation, a photo of the Matterhorn could be seen in the background in the capsule. Nicollier justified his choice of the Matterhorn by, among other things, the fact that he worked as an astrophysicist in the observatory on the Gornergrat in 1969 and saw the Matterhorn almost every day.
Visit to the Gornergrat
Together with five astronauts from the space shuttle, Nicollier visited the Gornergrat in October 1992 to show his colleagues one of his former places of work and the Matterhorn. The American astronaut Jeff Hoffman was also present. Helmut Biner, the head of marketing at Zermatt Tourism at the time, looked after the astronauts and today still talks about an amazing lunch.
At lunch, Hoffman told everyone that he had already climbed the Matterhorn. Nicollier explained that climbing the famous mountain was his dream. Biner knew that Nicollier would go back into space at the end of 1993. So he had the idea that Nicollier could take two flat pieces of stone from the Matterhorn up into space, climb the Matterhorn on his return and bring the stones back.
Ascent of the Matterhorn
In 1993, the two pieces of stone orbited the Earth 160 times in the space shuttle. In August 1994, Nicollier and his daughter as well as Hoffman and his son climbed the Matterhorn. One stone was placed on the summit of the Matterhorn and the other was handed over to the Alpine Museum and can still be admired today in the Matterhorn region.
In addition to his experiences outside the Earth’s atmosphere, Nicollier described his climb of the Matterhorn as the highlight of his life.