Author Archives: Samantha Cristoforetti

Star City Impressions – Part 2

I will fly back to Star City next Sunday to undergo water survival training with my crew. I thought it’d be a good time to post the second part of my “Star City Impressions”. See here for Part 1. Before leaving for Kazakhstan, Scott and his crew would pass their final exams in Star City: two full-day simulations in the Russian segment of the ISS and in the Soyuz respectively. I was particularly interested in this latter and my own training schedule did allow me to go and watch in short stints throughout the day. The beginning of an examination day is stiffly formal: the crew, dressed in their blue overalls,...

The typical day? Not defined.

What does the typical day of an astronaut in training for a space mission look like? This is one of the most common questions I am asked. Do I have an answer? Not really. Let’s talk about...

Star City Impressions

This is my attempt at giving you a glimpse into the peculiar life in Star City. The idea has come from a request of the friends at the Karemaski Multi Art Lab in Arezzo, Italy. They have sponsored a science fiction writing contest to honor Valentina Tereshkova’s spaceflight 50 years ago. The best short stories will be published in a collection that will also include an Italian translation of this text. This is the first of three parts. There’s something magical about Star City. I remember crisply when I drove past the entrance gate for the first time. I had been an astronaut with the European Space Agency (ESA) for a year...

Training for ISS – Part 2

I have been a bit absent from this blog in the last couple of months: my apologies for that. Believe it or not, I was given a pretty long break from formal ISS training - although I have kept my head in the books! It’s been a busy time nevertheless: I’ve taken care of some personal matters, like a move, and I have worked my way through piles of documents, unanswered correspondence and all kinds of little and big open actions that had accumulated in over a year and a half of almost constant travel around the world for training. So I’m ready to start off with a clear mind, a clean...

Discharging the fire extinguisher (Photo courtesy: Milo Sciaky)

Fire!

The International Space Station is a very safe working environment, as I explained elsewhere. However, the fact of being in space does make some situations quite critical and potentially life-threatening, therefore crewmembers practice extensively the proper response...

A trip into vacuum

Whistling, of all things. Like my fellow “Shenanigan” Alex right next to me, I’m puckering my lips and trying diligently, but the results are modest. Whistling may be a trivial enough task, but not when the atmosphere in our Orlan suits is now down to less than half of the normal sea-level pressure, way too rarefied for any proper sounds to be produced. Even the pitch of our voices is changed as the thinner atmosphere blows on our vocal chords. And the hoarseness in my throat is accompanied by an overall unusual feeling in my airways: not at all unpleasant or disturbing, just very new to me. In truth, most of today’s...

All I need to know to fly to space I learned in Alaska…

Well, no, not really. I have only just started to tackle the great deal of skills and knowledge I will need to acquire on my journey to the launchpad. Still, the seven days I spent kayaking and camping in Alaska this last September under the expert guidance of two wonderful NOLS instructors, Josh and Ashley, taught me a lot of lessons that will hopefully make me a better crewmember on the International Space Station. NOLS expeditions are one of several space-analogue training environments that are meant to foster team-building and to practice “human behaviour and performance” skills – intangible, yet invaluable personal assets ranging from leadership/followership and decision making to self-awareness and...

Leonardo and the guardian angels

If you ever have a chance to visit NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) – and it’s well worth a visit - you will notice a brightly coloured painting on the wall of the main control room. On the left side is an unusual depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, which seamlessly fades into a human being in the same pose, but dressed in a white spacewalker’s EMU. That’s the Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or simply “the suit”. I love how this painting strikes a connection between human spaceflight and Leonardo, a figure who explored the potential of the human genius in engineering, art and the observation of nature. I wish I could...

We expect the best, but prepare for the worse

Most astronauts dream of having the opportunity to perform a spacewalk at least once in their career and I am no exception to that rule. There’s something appealing about the idea of leaving behind the relative safety of the Space Station wearing your own little spaceship, about the thought of driving bolts while oceans and continents majestically pass by, about the challenge presented by the most physically and mentally demanding activity ISS crewmembers are confronted with. There are also specific risks inherent to a spacewalk and one of the most dreaded scenarios involves a spacewalker going unconscious due to a medical issue or a malfunction of the pressurized suit. Over 150 spacewalks...

Outdoor staircases and brain gymnastics

I’ve been in Montreal for a week now, staying in the charming neighborhood of Plateau Mount Royal and spending full days of robotics training at the Canadian Space Agency. I haven’t ventured far beyond the commute route so far, except for the brief stroll to nearby cafés for breakfast, a little daily ritual that has progressively shifted later in the mornings as I have slowly digested the six-hour time shift from Europe. I have taken great pleasure in exploring the little quaint streets flanked by trees and row houses, each with a unique façade and with an outdoor staircase leading to an independent entrance on the second floor. Straight or curved, simple...

No molecule shall stand still!

As part of my training on the systems of the International Space Station (ISS) I have passed my ECLSS exam a couple of weeks ago at Johnson Space Center in Houston. ECLSS is the Environmental Control and Life Support System and is one of the ISS systems that the crew interacts most with. What nature does for us when we are on the planet, we have to engineer for ourselves when we are in space. Things like water or waste management are very much on our minds on Earth as well, as we realize that we might be pushing the limits of nature’s ability to support our needs. But how about something...

If you’re working hard, you’re working too hard!

EVA training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) is hard work, especially when you are very inexperienced (like me!) and you still need to learn how not to fight against the suit, how to optimize your movements, how make things easier for yourself. “If you’re working hard, you’re working too hard” is what veteran spacewalker Suni Williams likes to say. One of many great pieces of advice she gave me last Tuesday, when she found the time to get in the suit to coach me in my second EVA run. However… easier said than done. For my entire run I was at maximum cooling, with 75GPH of water flowing in my Liquid...