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Preflight Interview: Luca Parmitano
Luca Parmitano

European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano poses for a portrait following the March 19 Expedition 36/37 press conference. Photo credit: NASA

Q: Why did you want to be an astronaut?

A: Is there any other job that beats being an astronaut? Who didn’t want to be an astronaut? That is my question. Basically, I grew up with the dream of being an astronaut. Since I was a very little kid one of the earliest memories that I can think of is of me, about three or four-years-old, no older than that, and the very first time in a swimming pool with the instructor trying to get to know us, a pool filled with kids about that age. What is the first question he asked: what do you want to be when you grow up? And I remember very clearly, kids saying, I want to be a doctor, I want to be a teacher, I want to be a gas station attendant, whatever. I remember very clearly that my answer was, I want to be an astronaut. Now why I answered that, I think that what happened is that I grew up at the beginning of the ’80s. I was born in 1976, so when I was about that age is the time that the very first shuttle flights were happening, and being a first and being the ’80s those were highly televised, even in Europe, even in Italy. So I remember seeing the first astronauts floating around the space shuttle doing their job, and I think that even in a kid, small as I was, I just thought that must be the greatest job in the world to be able to do those things and call it a living. So since then I had this dream of becoming an astronaut. Now it was a dream, meaning I had projects growing up of doing things, but that was always my dream, a little bit hidden in the drawer but always there for me to open the drawer, look at it, and say, oh, it is still there. I grew up and I kind of took the road of becoming a pilot, which was another dream I had of flying, and once I did attend the air force academy, that dream of flying became more like a project, and I wanted to be a fighter pilot which I did. I became a fighter pilot. Then I was lucky enough to be selected by the Italian air force to become a test pilot, and somehow now the road that took me from being a kid into the air force and then a pilot started getting closer to another road, which was the dream of becoming an astronaut. Somehow those two roads at one point collided, or merged, and as a test pilot I was able to apply for a job with the European Space Agency as an astronaut, and I was lucky and privileged enough to be selected.

You touched on your childhood; let me ask you to fill that our a little bit. Tell us about your hometown and where you grew up, what it was like there, and what you did as a kid.

My memories of my childhood are wonderful memories. I feel that I was privileged because I grew up in a beautiful city. It is Catania, on the eastern coast of Sicily. It’s a place filled with sun, close to the beach. Every day going to school I would see the Italian sea in front of my eyes and I remember sunny days in the mild Italian weather, especially in the south. My family, is a family of teachers, both my parents were teachers, they are now retired. For me, in that sense, the idea of education was always a part of my normal life. So for me going to school was important and getting a very good education. I grew up in a very loving family, typical Italian family with the expanded family. Every Sunday or every time there was any kind of celebration we would always be together. So with my brother and my cousins, we grew up together, sort of like brother and sisters, really. A very happy childhood in the town of Catania. And then growing up, I was privileged again, my parents were very open-minded, and when I was 16 in high school, I won a scholarship. I was lucky enough to win this scholarship to become an exchange student with the society called the American Field Service, which in Italian is Intercultura. And so by myself at 16 I traveled to the States, in California, and I attended one year of high school in Southern California in Orange County, in a town called Mission Viejo. I think that was a pivotal moment in my life because I think my life really changed at that point. My host family, was a wonderful family. I’ve stayed in contact with them; as a matter of fact, my host father is coming to my launch, he is a former Marine navigator, he flew F-18s, and that really revived my desire to fly, and coming back from that experience, that is when I knew I was going to go to the air force academy. Well, I was going to try to go to the Italian air force academy, and at the same time I met the person that later became my wife, so it was a life-changing experience, certainly.

You met her in California?

I did.

So you then go back to Italy to finish high school and pick up the story there.

I went back to Italy, finished high school. In Italy we have 13 years of schooling total, so I had the fifth year of high school to complete when I came back, and then in that year I applied for the air force academy and went to the air force academy, which is a four year college, basically. At the time Kathy, my wife, who was my girlfriend then, had a long-distance relationship. I like to say that we are probably the last generation of people that would write letters, which were not in electronic form. We still have our packages of letters that we sent to each other. After the university and after the air force academy, I was one more time lucky enough to be sent to a very prestigious flight school. It is called the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot School in Texas, Wichita Falls. That is when, Kathy, by then we were about 20 or 21, moved in with me and that’s when we knew that we would get married. I finished pilot training, moved back to Italy, became a fighter pilot and got married with my long-time girlfriend, and we’ve been together ever since. I was assigned to a fighter squadron in Italy and after a few years I was selected to become a test pilot and we moved to Rome, and then to France, and then to Germany.

And is that the point that you became an astronaut?

Was when I moved to Germany.

To Germany.


You’re about to become one of only a little more than 200 different human beings who’ve actually been on the International Space Station, sort of a unique experience amongst all of the people of Earth. Have you given any thought to your hopes about how you can use your mission to try to inspire the space travelers of the future?

I have given a lot of thought to it because I think it is maybe one of the most important parts of my job is to share the experience. So one thing that I want to do is to make people realize that astronauts in general are very normal people. They are down to Earth, so to speak. I know it sounds contradictive but we are very normal people. We are very normal people with a fantastic privilege and opportunity to do something that is extraordinary. So my message is to the young people of today, to never feel that it is something that they cannot reach, never feel that it cannot be done or it is too hard, because it can be done. And you don’t have to become an astronaut to fulfill your dreams, but the space community has something that makes us unique. Whether you are a scientist, whether you are an astronaut, a pilot or in the administration or a doctor, we all really work towards the future. We are really paving the road for future, for the good of all humankind. So it’s incredibly exciting and I want to invite the future generations to find motivation into science, technology, engineering, to be curious, to want to experience this fantastic opportunity that spaceflight offer us, not just to astronauts but for everybody. And I hope that I will be able through my experience and to really inspire them to follow their dreams.

In doing the job of an astronaut and flying in space you’re taking on some relatively unique risks, but since you’re doing it I’m going to assume that you think those risks are worthwhile. But I want to know why you think that. What is it that we’re getting as a result of flying people in space that makes it worth doing?

Well, I think it’s our nature of humans to look for hard questions and then trying to find the answers. To find those answers we need to sometimes go far away. Five hundred years ago I think I would have been on the crew of Christopher Columbus. I wouldn’t have known where I was going but I would have want to be part of the crew because I would have thought that it’s important to expand our knowledge, and to look for the unknown so that it becomes known. Now today, the frontier is that of space. There are very few frontiers left. I think that the abysses of our oceans are one of the other frontiers that we need to explore, and then the universe is the other frontier. The risks, yes, of course, there are risks. I think that our engineers and our technicians do an incredible job of minimizing those risks. I like to think that the chances of those risks becoming real are very small. Of course the consequences are enormous in most cases. Is it worth it? Yes, it’s worth it because that’s who we are. That’s what makes us humans. That is what makes us different from all, from the rest of the animal kingdom. And if we don’t follow our nature of being explorators, of being thinkers, then we are denying a part of ourself that is incredibly important.

You and your crewmates are next in line to launch to the International Space Station. Luca, tell me, in summary, what is the goal of your mission to the space station and what are your jobs going to be there?

The way that I see it is that on the space station as it is right now, we do three things. We test new technology, some technology; we create and research science; and we do a little bit of exploration. And in my case, in my expedition, I’m lucky enough to actually be involved in all three of these things. For the technology part, well, it starts on the very day of the launch. We are testing a new way to get to the space station. We will be doing four-orbit rendezvous, a quick rendezvous, it’s so-called. Instead of waiting in orbit for two days before docking to the station after launch, right after launch we will get the spacecraft ready to just inject in higher orbit and then dock on the station, only six hours after launch. It would be only the second time that this has been done, but it’s the first time an international crew does it. The previous time it’s been done only by two Russians as the command[er] and as a co-pilot. And I will be the co-pilot in this case, and so that’s very interesting that. It will be likely different from the previous case because it will be a completely independent spacecraft doing it without support from the ground. But also, of course, on the station we test new technology every day. We have experiments that run on new technology, and we develop new technology so that we can go to the station and then in the future do more. The second part, science, it’s very exciting because the space station is incredibly advanced laboratory, orbital laboratory, and the science that we do on the station cannot be replicated anywhere else, it can only be done on the station. And at any moment on the station we have between a hundred and thirty and a hundred and fifty experiments running. And now the crew interacts with about two-thirds of it, so we will be dealing with, installing, repairing or following about a hundred experiments, and of these, probably a good 20% or more are physiology experiments where we are the science there, we are the objects of the science and we perform the experiments on ourselves. And if this wasn’t exciting enough, I think that the part where we talk about exploration is even more exciting. Now you may wonder what kind of exploration we do orbiting around the Earth. But as a matter of fact we as humans have a unique capability to pick up things, just looking at them that cannot be done with a satellite or any other electronic or automatic means. So that part of exploration already something, but thinking that what we are doing today is paving the way to future exploration is really what makes my heart beat faster when I think that what we are discovering today in terms of technology, in terms of physiology, will really open up the road for future exploration.

With all of that excitement waiting for you there, what are you looking forward to the most about seeing at the space station when you get there for your first trip?

As you said, it’s my first trip so everything for me is going to be new and I’m just looking forward to the whole experience. I cannot really pinpoint something that I’m looking forward to see. Of course, looking out Cupola I just know it will be an incredible experience, it will create memories that will be with me forever. Certainly the thought of doing extravehicular activity and being outside is also something that really excites me, but in general, I’m really just looking forward to the full experience from launch to reentry.

Is there a special significance for this mission, for the European Space Agency, and for Italy, for your mission here?

Luca Parmitano

European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano works with various tools during a routine operations training session in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

I like to think so. For the European Space Agency, this is the first flight for what we call the new generation of astronauts. I was only selected a few years ago and with a class of six—called The Shenanigans—and I happen to be the very first one to be assigned to a mission, so we went through a selection progress all together, we were trained together for the first time by ESA, and then I was assigned to this mission. And this will be a test-bed to see how the selection process and the training process went for ESA. But also it’s exciting for the whole community to see the first one of this new class going up in space and finally taking the first steps to this journey that has taken me all the way here. For the Italian Space Agency and Italy in general, this is also very momentous because, for the first time we have an Italian slot for the Italian Space Agency, one, of the very few slots that we could barter thanks to the MPLM [Multipurpose Logistics Module] barter [between] the Italian Space Agency with NASA, and this is the first long-duration one with an Italian astronaut, so, of course, we all very much looking forward to this very Italian flight. The name of my mission for the Italian Space Agency is Volare also something very Italian; it also reminds of a song that is famous all over the world. And we have some Italian experiments on board that I will be performing, so overall there is a lot of Italian in this flight including, as it is planned right now, the first Italian extravehicular activity.

You’ve referenced already the science as one of the highlights of the mission that you’re going to be flying here. How, in general, how do you relate to people the potential for what we can learn as a result of flying people on board this space station?

It’s very simple, because I just tell them what we’re doing and how it’s going to affect people on Earth directly. Now, of course, we are doing science that some of it is very advanced. Let’s not forget that the space station is a frontier post so what we are doing is very avant-garde and very futuristic. But a lot of the experiments really have an immediate effect on the ground so I can mention a couple. There is one I like to name is called Pro K. It’s a very simple experiment, apparently, where we’re going to look how a diet can influence that loss of calcium from our bones. That’s a very simple way to explain this experiment; there is a lot more science behind it. But let’s imagine, so, the loss of calcium from bones means osteoporosis; millions of people on Earth are affected by it. Let’s imagine now what an improvement it would be in lifestyle and quality of life in general if instead of pills or cures or expensive things, just by a diet we could improve the situation of these people and that is something that we are testing today and the results will be available and ready for the people on the ground. That is just one of the experiments that we are doing. There are several experiments. Another one is a European called Sarcolab. We will be looking at how the sarcomeres, which is part of our muscles, how do they work, how do they interact, what happens to them when they are put in a condition that is different from what they are used to? Not only microgravity but being bedridden for a long time could have the same effect. Now, very little is known about these cells that are so important in our body, and this study is going to look at those cells and find out that science will be applicable right away to people on Earth. And there are also technology experiments—these are physiology—there are also technology experiments that will be starting with us and the results will be applicable, again, on Earth. For example, one of the experiments that we will be doing is to use an ultrasound machine to map our spine. Now this is something that has not been done before, and the advantages from a medical point of view are incredible because, until now to do any kind of studying on the, studies on the spine, we need an MRI machine. Now MRI, magnetic resonance [imaging] machines, are incredibly expensive, very big, they’re not easy to transport. So many countries, or many locations, have very difficult access to these machines. An ultrasound machine, on the other hand is small and portable, like the one we have on the station, and developing protocols and softwares to improve the imaging on these machines could mean that, soon after we complete our experiments, the technology that we import on the ground could help people all over the world to have access to better diagnosis on their spine. So this is an immediate effect, and there are more that I could talk about if you want me to expand about it.

Well, in general, as you’ve said, there’s a lot of research that’s being done to find out how living in that environment affects the people who are there, and, of course, to find out how to counteract the negative ways in which it affects the people that are there, and to that end the space station program partners have recently assigned a couple of crew members to fly for a full year on board the station to advance that research. What do you think about sending somebody to the station for twice as long as you’re going?

Well, for starters it’s not the first time that somebody flies for a year, so we know that there are no permanent effects that could affect the safety of the crew members, and I think that the science behind it is very solid. I would volunteer for a year flight because I think that in future, not a very close future, but in the future, we will need people to fly for long time in orbit, for long time in space for interplanetary travel, and again we need to take those steps and we need to take those steps now so that in the future it will be easier to take those steps further away.

Are there one or two favorite experiments in this human life sciences area that you’re really looking forward to doing?

Well, I like them all. I volunteered for every single human life experiments on the station available. I volunteer for all of them because I think they’re all valuable, they all come with very good science behind, and they will produce good science. I like them all. I think that the one I was talking about, the Pro K, is one of those that I kind of like. I am happy to participate because it involves eating. it’s a diet and so why not? It will be interesting to see how it goes.

I was going to be eating anyway, so…

Exactly; it’s simple and then it’s fun. I know that the rest of the crewmates are also doing the same experiment, so it will be fun to exchange our opinions on that.

There are, amongst the hundred and twenty or a hundred and thirty or whatever, total experiments, there are experiments in several other scientific disciplines, too, and you have several laboratories, including ESA’s Columbus laboratory, that are outfitted with special equipment to help you do the work in those other experiments. Give me two or three examples of some of those other kinds of science that you’re going to be involved with on this flight.

So there is one experiment, it’s called ICE [Italian Combustion Experiment] Green Air, and the name already gives an idea of what it’s going to be. It’s a combustion experiment for less polluting kind of combustion fuels. So right now, everywhere in the world, there is a lot of research on ecology-friendly fuel and biofuels. On the space station we have this unique environment where we can study combustion in one dimension only without the effect of gravity affecting the combustion. This experiment, happens to also be Italian, so I’m particularly happy to talk about it and to take part in it, to study biofuels. It will study combustion in order to understand how to ameliorate, to make it better, so that the results of combustion which normally are toxic substances, how to make them either disappear or reduce them to the minimum. So in the application to this is not only for space fuels but also on the ground to make a combustion that’s more efficient and less polluting. Just make it a better environment for future generations. Connected to this experiment there is another one that analyzes the particulates. What creates bad smells, including the smells of pollution, and a very delicate specific sensor that will help analyze the quality of air in very particular environment like the one on the space station. Another experiment that will start with my increment is called FASES [Fundamental and Applied Studies of Emulsion Stability] and it’s an experiment that studies emulsions. Now, an emulsion has applications in many fields. Being Italian there is one field that is important to me, again it is the culinary art: a lot of the things that we make when we cook are emulsions. And emulsions can be stable or very unstable. And sometimes they need to be stable, sometimes they need to be unstable. This study on orbit will understand what the conditions are and what substances can create these two very different environments of unstability or stability. Now, we all like great Italian food and Mediterranean diet, but emulsions means fuels, it means paint, it means very specific substances, and so having a very clear idea of how to make them stable is a very important technology advance for substances that we use every day and that we need to be in a very specific way.

Are these experiments being conducted inside the Columbus module?

FASES is conducted inside the Columbus module; part of the ICE Green Air combustion is done on the American Lab even though is a European experiment, and the sensor is a portable experiment so it will be done all over the station, Columbus, the Lab and other environments.

Do you expect that you’re going to be spending a good bit of your time on the experiments in Columbus?

I think that the time is already determined, how much each crew member will spend on different experiments around the station, but basically I will act together with my USOS [United States Operating Segment] crew member as the eyes, the arms and the ears of the scientists on the ground, so really how much time we spend on a specific experiment depends on how many experiments there are on the station.

Has the work that’s been done in Columbus since its arrival, has that had a lot of success, a lot of good results for the scientists who’ve been working there?

Well, I cannot quote the exact number of publications that have been…


…published, I know that there are a lot of university, a lot of studies that are still ongoing with the data that we receive from Columbus, so the answer to that would be it’s been incredibly successful.

You’ve got work in Columbus and in the other modules, but you and your crewmates have a lot of other things that you have to do. You have to keep the space station that houses these laboratories, in good working order. Give me a sense of what other things there are for station crewmembers to do on any given day. What sort of work do you have to do?

Luca Parmitano

European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano uses virtual reality hardware in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at the Johnson Space Center. Photo credit: NASA

So I like to say that when, an astronaut needs to be a very flexible sort of a character. We start our flight as a pilots, in a way, so we are inside a cockpit and I will be following procedures and looking at instruments and looking for the docking, sort of what I used to do as a pilot in the air force. And then we get to the station and I have to take off the hat of the pilot and put on the hat of the scientist to follow these experiments, but then the station has been on orbit all ready for over ten years, at least the oldest part, and it will be going on for another ten years. Even more hopefully, so from time to time we need to be plumbers and mechanics, we do a lot of maintenance. It’s either preventive maintenance when we know that something is reaching its time life, we will go and exchange the ORUs, orbital replacement units, so we will go and exchange these parts or, if possible, we will fix them so that they last longer, and then we do very ordinary maintenance where we are simply cleaning the filters and keeping everything nice and tidy for ourselves and for the crews that will come after us. And then also the inventory management is a very big part of our life because even though the universe is infinite the space station has a very limited volume. All the different parts that are stowed on the space station need to be in a very specific place so that they are easy to find and easy to access. And we are constantly receiving new parts and sending away other parts, and all this movement needs to be followed very accurately. So we are very busy on the station and we are constantly working one way or another and so that also explains why we have so much training before we can go on the space station.

And all of the work that you’ve referred to is all things that you do inside the space station.

That is correct.

From time to time, crew members need to go on the outside of the space station to do some work, and in fact the plan, as it stands right now, is for you and Chris Cassidy to do some spacewalks. There are Russian spacewalks in the plan as well. Tell us what’s, right now, what you think it is that’s on the agenda. Who’s going to go out to do spacewalks, what are they about, and tell us about the role that you’re going to play?

So my increment is incredibly exciting, again from a planning point of view right now, we have a Russian EVAs and U.S. segment EVAs. Doing the Russian EVAs, Sasha Misurkin, the flight engineer for increment 35, together with my commander, Fyodor Yurchikhin, will be going out the station, and I will be responsible for operating the Russian segment part of the EVA. At that point I will be a specialist for all the checks, so I will be an so-called IV crew member, intravehicular, and I will follow them closely during the very initial part of the depressurization of the module and closing all the different hatches. So I’m looking forward to that. I will be working together with the Russian Mission Control Center, a lot of communication, all in Russian, procedures to follow, so there will be already for me a very new experience right off the bat as soon as we get on the station. However, you said earlier, some crew members get to do extravehicular activities, those are very privileged crew member, and as the plan stands now, Chris Cassidy together with me have two EVAs planned during our increment. I like to think that the work we’re going to do outside is very important because we have a dual objective. One is connected to science, because we will be retrieving some experiments that are currently outside the station. We will bring these experiments inside the station and then with one of the commercial cargo ships they will come back to Earth, where scientists and engineers will be able to recover those experiments and study them and come back with some results. The other part of the experiment is connected to technology and maintenance, and in a way what we’re going to do is make the space station a better space station so that it can last longer and be more efficient. Specifically, we’re going outside to reposition some parts of the space station that have been put up recently with a cargo ship and need to be installed in their final place. We will be also replace and recover some parts that have failed until now, and we will be installing new of those ORUs, so orbital replacement units, to make the space station more efficient. Finally we will be installing some protective blankets they’re called, so that the space station can prolong its stay in orbit because, of course, vacuum of the space is a very harsh environment not only for us but also for materials for the space station. So installing these protective blankets will improve the durability of the space station.

That’s an awful lot of stuff that you’ve got on your plate there for five-and-a-half months. It’s too bad you don’t get any time off.

We do get time off, luckily. As matter of fact I was talking to one of the crew members that recently came back to Earth and that was one of the question I asked. I asked him, how did you feel about the distribution of time on the space station—on the simulations that we do on Earth we have a red line which tells us where we are in our working day, and we are always behind. Somehow during the simulations we always running behind, and there is this feeling that you want to do more and it always seems like we just don’t have enough time. And this crew member told me, don’t worry about it, you will adjust fast to the timeline and you will be able to do all the work you need to do and have some time off. And that time off is our time to enjoy being on the space station, take pictures, being able to communicate with our friends, our family and certainly create memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

You have anything special planned to do during that, your copious free time?

Well, I don’t now if it’s special. I very recently started playing the guitar; I used to play a little bit of the piano. On the space station we have a guitar, we have a keyboard, so I, for my personal enjoyment will be playing those instruments. Hopefully I will not be bothering too much the rest of the crew. But that will be fun. I can imagine that playing the guitar quietly, looking through the Cupola, our planet should be a very interesting experience. What I try not to do—I have a plan of what not to do. I’m always saying that, if there is something that I can do on the ground then I probably shouldn’t waste the time doing it on the space station. So I don’t plan on watching movies or TV or reading too much. I love reading but maybe it’s something I can do on the ground rather than closed in my little crew quarters on the space station. So I’ll try to enjoy the time that I have on the space station and to live it to the fullest.

Another thing that you guys have a lot in the schedule for your increment is visits from cargo ships. There’s like a small fleet of cargo ships now that are bringing supplies to the International Space Station. Could, could you tell me about the different vehicles that are involved there including, of course, the European vehicle and the new American commercial vehicles?

We have a great fleet of cargo ships. As a matter of fact, we have more cargo ships than we have crew ships that can bring people on board. Once again in my increment we are very lucky. We have a very nice traffic of vehicles, and it’s always interesting because they bring you stuff and it’s always it’s something that we look forward to, new smells and new toys to play with, in a way. So there are quite a few spacecraft coming to the space station while we are on board. Of course, the first one will be another Soyuz ship bringing the crew members, but for cargo we have the Progress spacecraft. This is the very known Russian cargo ship, it’s been flying for many years, it’s a very stable platform, and we will have a couple of those coming in, and we will be looking forward to the arrival of those spacecraft but, as a crew, it’s mostly taken care of by our Russian crew members. Of course, they own the spacecraft and they are expert on the approach phases and all that. As a European, I’m obviously looking forward to the arrival of ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle], ATV-4, Albert Einstein. I am qualified as the main operator for the arrival and for the docking together with my Russian crew members, and my job will be to closely monitor the approach of the ATV, which is an automatic vehicle so it will dock completely automatically. However, the crew in the very close phases of the docking is the prime sensor should something go wrong, and, of course, it’s proven to be a very stable machine, very solid, very precise—after millions of miles around the Earth it docks with a precision of one centimeter. That’s less than half an inch. It’s a very good machine, a very good spacecraft, but we still need an operator. The other vehicles that we expecting will be HTV [H-II Transfer Vehicle], HTV-4, that is the Japanese vehicle. The difference between the two, even though they’re similar in size, is that the Japanese HTV will park near the station and then we, from inside, as astronauts, will operate the robotic arm, the Canadarm2 to grapple it and then we’ll berth it to the station. So once again a very exciting moment for us because we will be involved in something that’s very unique, grappling a free-floating vehicles, and then berthing it. All the USOS crew members, as a matter of fact, are qualified as main operators for the robotic arm, including myself, so one of us will be flying the arm to grapple that. And then we have also, as it’s planned right now, we have for the first time one of the new cargo ships. It won’t be a Dragon—that has proven so far to be a very dependable machine—but we will have for the first time a new cargo ship. It’s called the Cygnus, and as always something that is there for the first time is very exciting. It’s always something new, and once again for an Italian this is interesting because part of the spacecraft, the pressurized compartment, will be built in Italy, so I’m looking forward to see this new spacecraft arriving, and again we will grapple it and then berth it to the station.

You’ve given us a real good oversight of the science and the technology and the things that are being worked on on the space station. As you look at it, Luca, what is it that we’re learning, overall—what are we learning from these missions to the International Space Station that are specifically getting us ready to explore out beyond Earth orbit?

Any time we start a travel, we start with one step. The space station as it is now is that first step into the future exploration. We are inventing today technology that doesn’t exist yet, and the technology that we need to think about, that will help us in the future leave the safety of our planet and low Earth orbit to go further away. When I say what I mean is that there is technology now that can send us further away; we have been to the moon, of course, and back. However, we are still behind in making that further step away from what we know because we simply haven’t thought about all the incognitives. Part of that is that a trip to the moon and back is only a three-day trip, but if we need to go away for six months or more, then we have a lot more environmental issues to deal with: cosmic radiation, radiation in the radiation, all the physiology changes that happen on the human body when we are in a weightless environment. There only been less than 500 astronauts, all over, and only a fraction of those have been on orbit for over six months, so the database that we have is very limited. Technology’s helping us create a bigger database, understanding what these changes are and what they do to us on the short term and in the long term, but we need to expand on those data, we need to understand even better what happens to us. Now what we are doing today will not be used tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or even in 10 years, but 50 years from now we will use the science and the technology that we are creating right now and that’s why I’m proud of the very small contribution that I will be able to give in my six months increment because I think that I will be opening the doors for future generation to be able to go farther away.