8 PEO­PLE

PAOLO NESPOLI, THE EN­GI­NEER WITH HIS HEAD IN THE STARS

All About Italy (USA) - - Editorial - Yle­nia Leone

He is a space veteran, but his en­thu­si­asm is the same as his very first time; Paolo Nespoli is pre­par­ing for his third mis­sion, which will take place soon af­ter his 60th birth­day. “I am happy to go back up: in space age weighs less,” Nespoli af­firms; he will celebrate his 60th birth­day on April 6, 2017, and will be­come the old­est Euro­pean as­tro­naut to go into space. For the mo­ment, the Euro­pean record be­longs to the French­man Jean Loup Chré­tien, who flew on the Mir with the Space Shut­tle At­lantis in 1997 at the age of 59 af­ter three mis­sions with Soyuz.

The old­est as­tro­naut in the world to go into space re­mains John Glenn, who was also the first Amer­i­can to go into earthly orbit on Fe­bru­ary 20, 1962, and re­turned at the age of 77 with the STS-95 mis­sion in 1998.

The Mi­lanese as­tro­naut will be em­ployed on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS) for a mis­sion that will leave from the se­cret Rus­sian space-launch site of Ba­jkonur in Kaza­khstan on May 30, 2017, for six months in space. It will be his third ex­pe­ri­ence in orbit and the fourth long-term mis­sion for the Ital­ian Space Agency. In the last weeks, Roberto Bat­tis­ton, the Pres­i­dent of the ISA, ex­plained that the ISA is work­ing to­ward the goal of hav­ing an Ital­ian as­tro­naut take on the role of com­man­der of the ISS. Italy cur­rently has four as­tro­nauts “in ser­vice:” Paolo Nespoli him­self, Roberto Vit­tori, Lica Par­mi­tano and Sa­man­tha Cristo­fore­tti. Nespoli has proudly de­clared that “I am an en­gi­neer, but I have never stopped dream­ing,” and it is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine the bound­ary be­tween dream and re­al­ity for some­one like him, who has wit­nessed a num­ber of im­por­tant mo­ments in space his­tory, from the re­sump­tion of the con­struc­tion of the space sta­tion to the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the Shut­tle and the cel­e­bra­tion in space of the 50th an­niver­sary of Yuri Ga­garin’s first or­bital flight. The story of Paolo Nespoli is one of nu­mer­ous suc­cesses, one af­ter the other, af­ter a long wait­ing pe­riod. His life as an as­tro­naut be­gan 26 years ago, when he was se­lected in 1989 as one of the eight as­tro­naut can­di­dates in the Ital­ian Space Agency and there­fore part of the body of as­tro­nauts in the Euro­pean Space Agency. Pas­sion­ate about com­puter tech­nol­ogy, un­der­wa­ter im­mer­sion and flight (he has a li­cense as a tourist pi­lot), Nespoli has worked since 1991 to train Euro­pean as­tro­nauts at the ESA cen­ter in Cologne and sub­se­quently in the prepa­ra­tion of the on-board com­put­ers on the old Rus­sian space sta­tion Mir.

In 1998 he was fi­nally ad­mit­ted in the train­ing pro­gram at NASA’S John­son Space Cen­ter in Hous­ton to­gether with an­other Ital­ian as­tro­naut, Roberto Vit­tori. But the wait for a space flight was still long, due to the sus­pen­sion of Shut­tle flights af­ter the tragedy of the Columbia. For this en­gi­neer with a past in the army, his first mis­sion only ar­rived on Oc­to­ber 23-Novem­ber 7, 2007. “Espe­ria,” jointly man­aged by the ESA and the ASI, was an im­por­tant mis­sion that sig­naled the re­sump­tion of work for the en­large­ment of the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, with the in­stal­la­tion of Node 2 (the Har­mony mo­d­ule) built by Thales Ale­nia Space in Turin, to which were connected the Euro­pean lab­o­ra­tory Colum­bus and the Ja­panese lab­o­ra­tory Kibo.

His sec­ond mis­sion, Magis­stra, also pro­vided a record in that it was the first six-month mis­sion car­ried out by an Ital­ian; it be­gan on De­cem­ber 15, 2010, and con­cluded af­ter 152 days in May 2011, and for the first time saw two Ital­ians on the Space Sta­tion when Roberto Vit­tori ar­rived on board. Un­til a few months ago, Paolo Nespoli also was the Ital­ian with the most days spent off our planet—174 and nine hours—a record which is now held by Sa­man­tha Cristo­fore­tti, with 199 days. Among his records, the en­gi­neer also can boast of be­ing the first Euro­pean as­tro­naut to twit­ter from space. His Twit­ter mes­sages went vi­ral, in part due to his spec­tac­u­lar pho­tos of our planet as seen from the or­bital lab­o­ra­tory. Dur­ing the press con­fer­ence to an­nounce his third mis­sion in space, which will launch in 2017, Paolo Nespoli spoke about the use of so­cial net­works on the part of many as­tro­nauts as a means of dif­fus­ing news and im­ages to the pub­lic that doc­u­ment his own voy­age: “Sharing pho­tos from space will serve to pre­vent me from feel­ing alone.”

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