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szdaily -> Person of the week
First Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti boards ISS
     2014-November-28  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

    Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is the first woman assigned to a lengthy space station mission by the European Space Agency. She arrived at the ISS on Monday and will stay there for five months.

    ITALY’S first female astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti was welcomed aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with smiles and hugs Monday.

    Although Cristoforetti, who flew to the station in an agreement between her country’s space agency ASI and the European Space Agency (ESA), had yet to tweet from space, ESA released a video clip of her entrance onto the ISS.

    Cristoforetti and her crewmates Terry Virts of NASA and Roscosmos’ Anton Shkaplerov blasted off from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Soyuz transport craft Nov. 23 and docked with the station just under six hours later.

    They were welcomed aboard the orbiting science laboratory by NASA station commander Barry Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Yelena Serova and Alexander Samokutyaev.

    Living in space may be a dream for the Italian astronaut, but she’ll have to do without a few earthly pleasures. Before launch, she tweeted Nov. 23 that she had “what was probably my longest shower ever.”

    Cristoforetti also enjoyed a final feast on Earth before she had to switch over to space cuisine.

    Cristoforetti will be living and working on the station for the next five months, during which the first half of Expedition 42 will set off home and Virts will take over command for the start of the overlapping Expedition 43.

    The Italian astronaut was assigned to the mission more than two years ago and has spent that time learning how to control the station’s robotic arms and perform all the scientific experiments for her tour, as well as how to handle any emergencies that might pop up. She also learned to fly the Soyuz capsule that took them to the ISS, a hurdle every crew member has to clear, and had to go through a two-week quarantine period before setting off.

    According to ESA, Cristoforetti was one of the first women to apply as soon as the Italian Air Force opened to women and she’s logged over 500 hours in military aircraft. She was one of six chosen from 8,000 applicants to join the ESA astronaut corps in 2009.

    While onboard the station, her main tasks will be to run science experiments that can’t be performed on Earth and maintain the microgravity lab that will be her second home. Her scientific program includes experiments in biology and human physiology as well as radiation research and technology demonstrations.

    She will also be the prime operator for the undocking of ESA’s final Automated Transfer Vehicle, the station’s largest unmanned support craft.

    Five projects will be devoted to the study of various aspects of human physiology in conditions of weightlessness, two will perform biological analyses on cell samples in microgravity; finally a demonstrator will be taken aboard the ISS for an automated manufacturing process for the realization of 3-D objects in the absence of gravity. The projects were designed by Italian universities, research centers, companies and SMEs, and selected by the ASI through National Tenders of Human Flight for the utilization of the ISS.

    “The microgravity condition allows us to study the behavior of the elements from a privileged point of view; space can reveal many surprises on the behavior of the human body and fluids in the absence of gravity,” she said about the value of space research. A total of nine Italian scientific research experiments and technological demonstrations will be performed during her stay on the ISS.

    Cristoforetti was born in Milan, Italy, in 1977. She studied at the Technische Universitat Munich, Germany, the Ecole Nationale Supéri-eure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse, France, and the Mendeleev University of Chemical Technologies in Moscow, Russia.

    “It’s hard to say what I’m feeling, even in Italian,’’ she told a packed press conference in Paris two years ago.

    “Space flight has always fascinated me,’’ she said.

    “I feel lucky to be here,’’ she added, thanking all those who supported her through a final year of gruelling training.

    “I think we’re going to be a good team,’’ Cristoforetti said of the ESA flight force whose numbers have been boosted from ten to 16.

    A Milan native, Cristoforetti attended scientific lyceé in Trento before getting a degree in mechanical engineering at the Technische Universitat Munich.

    She graduated from Italy’s Aeronauti-cal Academy in 2005.

    She speaks fluent German, English and French and has a good working knowledge of Russian.

    As well as scuba diving, she lists her hobbies as reading, yoga, swimming, ski-ing, mountain biking and caving.

    ESA launched its recruitment drive last year, its biggest since 1992, to boost the European Astronaut Center (EAC) in light of new projects, especially at the ISS.

    Two of EAC’s team are already Italian, Roberto Vittori and Paolo Nespoli, who are both set for more spells aboard the ISS in the near future. Cristoforetti is a fighter pilot with the Italian Air Force.

    Before Cristoforetti enters the space, earlier this month, the Journal of Women’s Health published a series of studies on the impact of gender on adapting to space.

    It turns out that women tend to suffer more faintness when trying to stand upon immediate return to Earth and also more vertigo, according to the report, and they appear to lose more blood plasma during spaceflight. Male astronauts seem to suffer more vision impairment due to intracranial pressure in orbit than women, although the difference is not statistically significant given the small number of subjects, researchers noted.

    There also are concerns about astronauts’ reproductive health stemming from space radiation as well as weightlessness.

    “Many questions remain unanswered,” the executive summary concluded.

    Dr. Saralyn Mark, an endocrinologist who serves as a government science adviser, said in an accompanying commentary that the findings can still be useful in shaping health-related policies and procedures.

    “Understanding small differences is especially important in the extreme environment of space where even small differences in how the body adapts can translate into critical health outcomes,” wrote Mark.

    Mark and the other authors and researchers — representing NASA, the National Space Biomedical Research Institute in Houston and various universities — recommend that more women fly in space, and more astronauts of both genders participate as test subjects.

    That will be challenging given the overwhelming number of male astronauts. Of NASA’s 43 current active astronauts, 11 are women.

    NASA hopes to expand its medical know-how with a yearlong mission by two astronauts — an American and a Russian — set to begin at the space station in March. Both are men. (SD-Agencies)

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