The future of space exploration, the emergence of the private space sector and daily life in orbit were among the topics Euronews’ Claudio Rosmino discussed with two astronauts on board the International Space Station:
Terry Virts, the current ISS commander and Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian female astronaut spoke to Claudio directly from their orbiting space lab.
“I would like to start by asking how you feel about the other three crew members returning to Earth. As the next crew won’t arrive until the end of March, do you feel a bit lonely up there in space?”
“You know, it was sad seeing these guys leave. We were together for four months, we were very good friends, we really enjoyed our time together, so it was sad seeing them leave. But we are not too lonely though, we have me, Samantha, Anton together now, and it’s an interesting two weeks time where we will have the space station to ourselves before the next crew arrives”
“In the first four months of your mission you carried out some scientific experiments. Samantha could you tell us more and explain the importance of these tests?
“The Space Station is an outstanding laboratory that allows us to do research in a very special condition, just as microgravity or weightlessness, which is very, very intriguing in many scientific fields. Because by doing scientific observations in microgravity you can observe and measure and quantify phenomena that, otherwise, you might not be able to even notice, and certainly not to study in detail, in the presence of the effect of gravity on Earth.
“I have done a lot of things in the last few months. I can mention the few things that I have been working on recently and I will be working on soon, which are two European Space Agency experiments: airway monitoring and triplelux.
“Both of them have actually been a little bit troublesome and I like to say this because you don’t want to give the impression that in science everything works right off the bat and immediately.
“Sometimes it is hard, it takes several trials, it takes a little bit of trial an error, it takes adjustments, it takes learning and that is definitely the case, for example, for an experiment we are monitoring, which is a very intriguing scientific protocol that for the first time is going to study how gas exchanged in the lungs, is affected by both weightlessness, microgravity and even reduced pressure.
“One which is going to come up is triplelux, which is another intriguing scientific protocol aimed at studying the effect of weightlessness on the immune system, on the behaviour of some specific immune cells that are involved whenever our body finds a disease”
Terry, another goal of this mission was to prepare the station for the arrival of future private spaceships. For Nasa it will mean, once again, having direct access to space. How important will it be having a partnership with private companies for space exploration?
“Well, it has been a big part of the mission so far, both doing spacewalk and doing work inside, to get ready for the future vehicles that will be coming to the Space Station.
“And it is very important for Nasa, our way forward, the way we are going to launch astronauts from Florida once again to the Space Station is going to be on both the Boeing capsule and the SpaceX capsule, starting sometime probably in the next two years. We are looking forward to that, it is an important part of the Space Station programme, it is an important logistical thing that needs to be solved in order to get people to the station and back. So, it is very important.”
What comes after the international space station, once its mission is over? How do we ensure the continued presence of humans in space?
“Well, that is a great question. The plan that Nasa has is to build a rocket called SLS (Space Launch System) which is a heavy-lift rocket, it is something that is much bigger than what we have today and it will be able to launch the Orion capsule with humans on board as well as landers or other components to destinations beyond earth orbit.
“Right now we can only fly in Earth orbit, that is the farthest that we can go. This new system that we are building is going to allow us to go beyond and hopefully take humans into the solar system to explore, so the Moon, Mars, asteroids, there are a lot of destinations that we could go to and we’re building these building block components in order to allow us to do that eventually.”
Samantha, according to a recent survey, based on research on the internet, you are now the most popular Italian woman in the world, ahead of Monica Bellucci (actress) and Laura Pausini (singer). Does it mean that science may be more attractive than showbiz?
“Well (laughing), I am not sure that survey was conducted according to most scientific and statistical criteria, but (I) just take it for the fun, that I am sure it was meant to be.
“I am certainly happy that a person like me, who is really nobody as a person, has the privilege of being the representative of something really special, which is the Space Station programme – having this incredible, technological, scientific achievement, which is really a testament to what humanity can achieve when we decide to work together and to put together our best minds all over the world to do something which is really amazing.
“So in that sense, of course, I happy about the outcome of this survey, which, again, I am sure it was meant in good fun”
Now some questions sent in by one of our social media followers: in around two months you will come back to earth. What did you miss the most during your stay in space?
“Well, that is a great question. Living here is very pleasant, we have everything we need, the food is good, we are here with good friends. So life in space is pretty cool.
“The thing I think we miss the most is people. You know, we are missing our family on Earth, missing our friends, getting back to see folks. That’s the thing you really miss more than anything.
“Another thing is weather. We do not have weather here, we were just talking about rain and snow and what it is like to have it on Earth. So that is something I miss and I am looking forward to experiencing a little bit of weather, hopefully a lot of sun and warmth, you know, rain, snow, the kind of stuff we do not get here.”
To finish, I would like to ask how you on the station remembered the actor Leonard Nimoy. Was your interest in space inspired by Star Trek and Mr Spock, just like it was for so many people?
“Thanks for the question. Definitely I was a big Trekker growing up, I was really, really, really a big fan. I do think he has played a part in helping to show me this path, to help me become aware that this is what I wanted to do, you know, become an astronaut, travel to space and play a little bit my part in this human adventure of space exploration, which is just one long journey. And one day maybe, I believe, the Star Trek reality will become true.
“So I felt like I had an obligation to honour Leonard Nimoy when he passed away recently.”
“Thank you very much for having been with us, enjoy the rest of your mission and as Mister Spock would have said ‘live long and prosper’.”