More than seven months in orbit, among the most mysterious wonders of Creation. Scrutinizing the stars more closely, discovering the magnificence of the Earth, the Blue Planet, the cradle of life in our solar system. Studying and working for the men of the future, dreaming of realities that today seem science fiction: the colonization of other worlds, the landing of today too-distant places, space colonies able to travel beyond space and time. If one day the man will be able to go beyond the boundaries that now seem insurmountable prisons will also be possible thanks to pioneers of astrophysics as Samantha Cristoforetti. In the period on the International Space Station, together with the American Terry Virts and the Russian Anton Shkaplerov, she played a leading role in the mission called Futura, as the name of the horizon these extraordinary scientists looked at. Name and logo were chosen by two separate “call for ideas”, which was attended by enthusiasts of the space following the guidelines of the Air Force, Esa, and Asi. They are both linked to the concepts of search, discovery, wonder, science, technology, exploration, inspiration, adventure, travel, excellence, humanity, teamwork, enthusiasm, dreams and nutrition – basic elements of human life.
Over 6 months and 19 weeks, Samantha and her colleagues have performed several experiments, some precisely made in Italy, in microgravity conditions necessary to enable long journeys across the Universe. With the experiment called “Nato” they have tested countermeasures for osteoporosis working on bone tissue nanoparticles. “Drain Brain” has been used instead to build a new diagnostic tool for neurodegenerative diseases, observing the venous return from brain to heart in extreme conditions. “Cytospace” has been used to observe how the cell structures in space, while “Bone / Muscle Check” has had the task of “validating a simple and innovative way to quantify the state of bone debilitation using a saliva sample”. This research by right will be part of the history of science. But no adventure is eternal, neither this. Today the shuttle Soyuz, after the ritual celebration and the handover – that took place yesterday – between Virts and Gennady Padalka, will take AstroSamantha and his companions home, almost a month later than originally expected. The date of 11 May, in fact, was delayed due to the failure of the Progress M-27M cargo, which changed all the activities of docking and undocking on the International Space Station.
Not bad for Cristoforetti, who, after being the first Italian woman to set foot on orbit, has also become the one who stayed there longer than ever. The operation started at 12.20 Italian time. Everything will end three hours later, when the shuttle will touch the soil of Kazakhstan. The Soyuz will separate from the International Space Station, taking the distance from it but always remaining in the same orbit. After an orbit and a half, there will be the so-called deorbit burn, a move that will allow the crew to descend, slow down and finally to intercept the Earth’s atmosphere. Around 140 kilometers away from the Earth, the modules of the shuttle will divide: two will disperse into the atmosphere, while the one on which the crew is traveling will continue its run. A dozen kilometers away from the Earth, two parachutes of the Soyuz will open, while the shuttle will decelerate up to 20 kilometers per hour.
A few minutes before the landing, the retro-rockets will be used to increase the braking effect. “At that point, the Soyuz will have already been intercepted by Russian helicopters, with personnel on board, ready to get to the exact location. In any case, as soon as the Soyuz will touch the ground, it will immediately send signals to be intercepted” Delfina Bertolotto – Head of the Human Spaceflight Unit of the ASI – explained. The impact “will be like that of a FIAT 500 that collides against an articulated lorry at breakneck speed”. After the landing, the staff will bring out the crew: Cristoforetti will be the last one to leave the shuttle, as Luca Parmitano – her predecessor – did.
During the last hours of her stay in orbit, AstroSamantha wanted to share the latest, wonderful pictures of her experience. “Another of my favorite view – she wrote – the Alps dressed for winter” and “I have no intention of returning to Earth without having shared the last picture of the Caribbean.” In total, the 38 year-old Italian Air Force captain sent 2000 shots from space, observed 3200 sunrises and as many sunsets. Record after record for a wonderful pioneer of whom even Ulysses would be jealous.
Translation provided by Maria Rosaria Mastropaolo