Samantha Cristoforetti's second mission, Minerva, has begun: the Italian ESA astronaut arrived with her companions on the International Space Station. The Freedom capsule docked at 1:37 am CEST today, April 28. NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins accompained Samantha on her journey.
After the opening of the hatch between the ISS and the Freedom capsule, the new quartet was was warmly received by a large 'welcoming committee': seven people, including NASA and ESA astronauts and cosmonauts from Roscosmos.
Eight years after the start of ASI’s Futura mission, the Italian astronaut returns to space to spend about five months and a half in the orbiting laboratory, as the protagonist of ESA’s Minerva mission. AstroSamantha thus becomes the first European woman at her second flight to space.
«Space exploration, both human and robotic, has always represented one of the spearheads of the Italian role in the international space activities. Astronauts are clearly the most visible symbol of this Italian excellence! – says the president of the Italian Space Agency, Giorgio Saccoccia – This year, Samantha Cristoforetti’s return to the International Space Station, obtained through our negotiations with the ESA in the last few years, underlines, also symbolically, the importance our country has been giving to space activities for some time. I wish good luck and all the best in her work to Samantha for her new and extraordinary adventure!”
A paramount role, which Italy plays also in the many scientific experiments that Samantha Cristoforetti will conduct in orbit: dozens of researches, covering different sectors of medicine and nutrition, including six Italian Space Agency experiments.
Three of these experiments are now travelling to the Iss, brought with her by Samantha Cristoforetti. The first one is Antioxidant Protection (ASI Prometeo), an ASI project which will study in orbit the consequences of oxidative stress, that is the cell damage caused by too many free radicals, which represents a contributing factor to several harmful effects of space flight. The project aims at developing effective and safe therapeutic tools to protect the central nervous system, the most critical target of oxidative stress.
The Ovospace project, still by the ASI, aims at investigating the role of microgravity on the maturation and development of ovarian cells. In fact, the lack of gravity can compromise the ovarian function and physiological development of human beings. Studying the impact of the space environment on such aspects becomes essential in view of the future human settlement and long-term stay programs in the deep space.
ASI’s Evoo project, instead, is focused on balanced nutrition. On the International Space Station, the project will study the impact of space environment conditions on the physical-chemical, as well as nutritional and microbiological, characteristics of extra-virgin olive oil. A specific focus will be placed on how this food product, a symbol of Italy, reacts to microgravity and radiations.
As well as the three ASI projects, AstroSamantha’s national scientific background also involves the Italian contribution to ESA’s Suture in space project, which sees the University of Florence as principal investigator. The purpose is assessing the healing process of wounds in microgravity. Following the preparation of the project, a new technique has been developed to extend the survival of the explanted tissue.
During the Minerva mission, Samantha Cristoforetti will conduct two more Italian experiments which have been active on the ISS since 2019 and have already been used by her colleague Luca Parmitano during the ESA’s Beyond mission.
The first one is Acoustic Diagnostics, an ASI experiment aimed at assessing how the status of microgravity and the noise aboard the ISS may represent risk factors for the astronauts’ hearing, with the purpose of developing the necessary countermeasures for future long-term missions.
The second one is Nutriss, aimed at maintaining an ideal body composition by avoiding the increase of the fatty mass/lean mass ratio due to inactivity from microgravity.
The Lidal experiment, instead, will only touch lightly AstroSamantha’s in-orbit work: this experiment, which will be active until Cristoforetti’s arrival and will then resume as scheduled after her new departure from the ISS, is part of the Altea project to assess the risk of radiations. The purpose is developing a detector capable of measuring all the radiations to which astronauts are subject and exploring the radiation environment aboard the ISS.
As we wait to see Samantha Cristoforetti at work in this new adventure, where she will ensure consistency to in-orbit experiments, ESA’s Italian astronaut is again a symbol of the Italy of space.