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Roberto Vittori: A Photo of Truth in His Wife's Eyes
Risk is sometimes defined in unexpected places, at unexpected moments. Roberto Vittori saw risk-caused apprehension and at the same time pride in what he was doing in the eyes of his wife, in a photo taken when he was about to board a Soyuz capsule for a taxi mission to the International Space Station in April 2002.

Expedition 11 Flight Engineer 2 Roberto VittoriImage to right: Expedition 11 Flight Engineer 2 Roberto Vittori. Credit: NASA

His wife was with him until he reached the rocket. A photographer captured them just before the bus stopped. To Vittori, it is the best picture of the entire flight. "Every time I look at those eyes I see that she was with me, sharing the risk, but also the privilege of being part of such an endeavor."

Now Vittori is returning to the Station with Expedition 11. He will perform a series of European Space Agency experiments before returning to Earth with the Expedition 10 crewmembers.

Vittori is no stranger to risk. He is a graduate of the Italian Air Force Academy. After studying physics, he applied to the Italian Air Force as both a pilot and engineer. He was selected as a pilot. He did pilot training in Texas and after flying fighters operationally for the Italian Air Force, he graduated from U.S. Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Md., in 1995.

In August 1998 he came to NASA's Johnson Space Center for astronaut candidate training after selection as an astronaut by the Italian Space Agency.

Vittori believes the flight is important because it is an opportunity to renew public enthusiasm in Europe as we move toward continuing Station assembly and installation of the European Columbus laboratory.

"The Station is a bridge toward the future," he said. We don't know what the future is, and crossing the bridge to it will be difficult.

His mission focuses on experiments from universities and from small industrial companies. Those 20 experiments he will operate on the Station will help, he says, to bring space closer to becoming beneficial for everyone. "Space is getting closer and closer to the final user."

His own district, Lazio, near Rome, and the Italian Ministry of Research, created an aerospace district to foster that kind of interest and participation in space by the kinds of organizations Vittori's experiments represent -- small industry and university researchers.

Some of the 20 experiments are from the district, while others come from other parts of Italy and other parts of Europe.

Those experiments are among the rewards of exploration, and of accepting the risk which comes with it.

"Risk is life," Vittori believes. Certainly it's legitimate to ask whether a risk is acceptable. But without risk, it isn't possible to progress in some areas.

Exploration is one of those areas. "It is something that I personally have found extremely motivating to continue as we move toward the future," he said. "I believe it's an essential part of what we do."

+ Read Vittori's interview

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