25 Jul 2012
Two anniversaries of crucial importance for the history of Italian space accomplishments were celebrated today at the future site of the Italian Space Agency in Tor Vergata: twenty years from the STS 46 mission that took the first Italian astronaut Franco Malerba into space, and fifty years since the initial collaboration between Italy and NASA.
The setting for the celebrations was the future ASI headquarters in Tor Vergata, which was inaugurated with the traditional cutting of the ribbon. The inauguration took place in the presence of the ASI President Enrico Saggese, the Minister of Education, University and Research Francesco Profumo, the Deputy Administrator of NASA Lori Garver, ESA's Director of Planning and Control Giuseppe Morsillo and the Italian astronauts, gathered to celebrate the veteran Malerba.
Franco Malerba, whose journey in space began aboard the Shuttle Atlantis on July 31, 1992, paved the way for other colleagues who, between this historical date and 2011, represented at the highest level Italy’s scientific and technological excellence: Umberto Guidoni, Maurizio Cheli, Paolo Nespoli and Roberto Vittori. The group of Italian astronauts has recently been enriched by two new experts that are presently busy in preparation for their debut as astronauts: Luca Parmitano, whose mission is planned for mid-2013, and Samantha Cristoforetti, who will be the first Italian woman in space and whose mission is scheduled for late 2014.
Honouring Franco Malerba, that with great emotion wore his suit from the past, were his colleagues Guidoni, Cheli, Vittori, Parmitano (connected via Skype from Houston) and Cristoforetti.
The veterans recalled their long training, but also the emotions of the launch and general enthusiasm that led them to embark on such a demanding career, while Parmitano and Cristoforetti focused on their training, which is entering a crucial phase since both could face a spacewalk outside the ISS.
"We carry the Italian flag on our shoulders" said Franco Malerba "And this is a great honour that I have passed on to all the astronauts who have followed me in this adventure".
The ISS, theatre of our astronauts’ missions, is also a terrific showcase for Italy’s scientific and technological excellence and the results achieved by the industry and the scientific community of our country are very tangible. Such was the strain of the speech by Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator of NASA, who thanked the ASI for its support and called for an even closer collaboration between the two bodies.
"Not only do we celebrate 50 years of past collaboration - said the Garver - but I hope I can celebrate at least another 50 years of fruitful collaboration, even more rewarding, between Italy and the United States."
"The inauguration was a wonderful occasion - said Enrico Saggese, President of ASI - to celebrate the first 20 years of flight of Italian astronauts: from the inception of Malerba to today, the history of Italian flight has been punctuated by major successes, both in terms of astronauts and in terms of industrial endeavours. The direct agreements between Italy and NASA have given Italy 7 astronauts and 8 missions. The direct bilateral relationship has allowed Italy to leave an intangible mark on the International Space Station, without doubt a recognisable, fundamental and important mark. We now want to look at the next decades to maintain the leading role we had in the past, for an even more involved future. We will be increasingly involved in the utilisation and in the scientific activities of the great International Space Station laboratory. Furthermore, today - said Saggese - the Italian Space Agency opens the doors of its first great headquarters, established in an area granted by the University of Tor Vergata, which brings us closer to the University, ESA and other research bodies".