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Welcome home AstroSamantha: the Italian Space Agency's FUTURA mission is successfully completed

The European Space Agency astronaut and Italian Air Force captain landed at 3.44 pm (Italian time) on board the Soyuz capsule, in the steppes of Kazakhstan. Samantha Cristoforetti will be speaking to ASI headquarters from Houston on Monday 15 June at 2 pm, in her first interview with the press after returning to Earth

11 June 2015

After 200 days in orbit Samantha Cristoforetti has returned to our planet, marking the end of FUTURA, the second-longest mission ever run by the Italian Space Agency.

The return journey through the atmosphere on board the Soyuz rocket was very short: after undocking from the Station at 12.20 pm, Samantha Cristoforetti, Russian commander Anton Shkaplerov and NASA astronaut Terry Virts reduced their cruising speed from 28,000 km/h to zero in just under three hours, arriving at their destination in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 3.43 pm.  

Roberto Battiston, President of the Italian Space Agency, commented that “I am happy to announce Samantha's return to Earth, around which she has travelled more than 130 million kilometres in the last 7 months, the longest journey by a woman in the history of humanity. In terms of image, Samantha's success and that of the FUTURA mission have allowed us to show the world the quality of Italian space programs, created using our country's technology and industrial skills along with the skill of the people working in this sector, of which Samantha is the highest expression. We will work together with the astronaut to capitalise the results obtained and make Italy's work ever more efficient in a sector which is increasingly becoming an essential driver for the Italian economy, innovation and industry”.

Samantha's adventure began at 10.01 pm on 23 November 2014, at the beginning of nearly seven months on board the ISS as Flight Engineer and crew member of ISS Expedition 42/43. Her mission should have ended on 14 May 2015, but due to an accident with Russian cargo shuttle Progress - lost after launch - the return journey with the Soyuz rocket was postponed for the Expedition 42/43 crew. This extra month on board the ISS meant Samantha Cristoforetti returned to Earth on 11 June 2015, beating the record for the most consecutive days in space in a single mission by an ESA astronaut with 200 days in orbit. The record was previously held by Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, while the record for the longest stay in space by a woman was held by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams.  

Samantha was the seventh Italian astronaut to go into space and the fifth to board the ISS. This flight opportunity was assigned to ASI by NASA thanks to a bilateral NASA/ASI agreement (Memorandum of Understanding dated 9 October 1997), under which ASI exchanged access to part of the ISS resources for performing experiments in microgravity and both short and long duration flight opportunities for Italian astronauts for three MPLM (Multi Purpose Pressurised Modules) and PMM (Permanent Multi-Purpose Modules) for the ISS.  

During the return journey, the Soyuz physically detached from the ISS at 12.20 pm before distancing itself from the Station and beginning its descent. At 2.51 pm, the de-orbit burn manoeuvre began, in order to slow the capsule and leave its initial orbit to descend towards our planet's atmosphere. Once at 140 km altitude, the Soyuz's three modules separated and the descent capsule with the three astronauts on board began re-entry into the atmosphere after around 3 minutes. At an altitude of 10 km, the parachute opened to slow the descent to a speed of around 22 km/h, slowing further to 5 km/h as the final retrograde thrust activated at 70 cm from the surface. The capsule landed perfectly at 3.43 in the steppes of Kazakhstan.  

After the Soyuz landing, Samantha travelled on to Houston, US, where she will have a period of rehabilitation in order to re-adapt to gravity on Earth, like all astronauts returning from space, and will undergo questionnaires, muscle biopsies and other medical tests.