The European Space Agency's Luca Parmitano is part of a very exclusive club.
In the 60 years since Yuri Gargarin made the first human venture into orbit, fewer than 600 astronauts have been to space - Parmitano is one of them.
You may have caught some of the Space Chronicles on Euronews sent by the astronaut as he orbitted the earth at over 28,000 km/h aboard the International Space Station.
During the six months he spent in space, he provided valuable insight on what life was like in orbit, but now with his feet once again on solid ground, the astronaut offers a different perspective.
He spoke with Euronews' Claudio Rosmino in Cologne about the challenges of returning to earth, and the haunting beauty of outer space, and the planet we call home.
It is a pleasure to meet you on Earth after having watched your Chronicles from space. What was the experience like for you?
It was great sharing that experience, having the opportunity to speak to a large European audience in many languages. An opportunity not to be missed. I really liked this exchange with the European audience.
Let's go back to your return to Earth. I have the video here. What sort of physical and mental sensations did you feel?
First of all there is relief, because everything went well, then the happiness of being on Earth, the feeling of the Sun on your face, the breeze, the smells, the wet earth, there was snow on the ground. All those smells have been kind of alien for 200 days. So it was great joy mixed with a great tiredness, because the gravitational effects, especially in the first few days, are really strong.
What about the astronaut's program to get back in shape, after returning from a space mission?
On the one hand there is a continuation of the physiological experiments that were conducted in orbit. Then there is the real rehabilitation. A part of physiotherapy, which reminds us how to use muscles that are not active that much in microgravity conditions; then there is physical activity, like weight lifting, running, swimming, cycling.
During the 201 days of your mission, you posted a lot of photos and comments about Earth. What perception did you develop up there about the state of our planet ?
This year we have seen an unprecedented devastation in the Caribbean area, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. We have also documented the fires in the Amazon rainforest, in Africa and the bushfires in Australia, which I started photographing in September and continued until January and February.
You have participated in about fifty European and about two hundred international experiments. What kind of tests do you do in space and what consequences can they have on our life on earth?
The science that we carry out on board allows us to see how phenomena that are taken for granted on Earth, in a gravitational environment, are different when we bring them into orbit. It is an extremely controlled environment. In fact, we are able to control all the elements of that environment, from the composition of the atmosphere, to temperatures, to gravitational effects, because if we want, with centrifuges, we can generate accelerations similar to those on Earth, on the Moon or Mars.
You were the first Italian and third European commander of the ISS, what were the most significant moments of this experience?
When you are the Commander of the International Space Station you are the leader of a very small community of highly trained and skilled people. You are not a babysitter and you don’t give orders, but you step back and observe what is the best way to create an environment that allows everyone to work, communicate and operate in the best way possible.
How do you see the future of humans in space? What are the next stages of space exploration?
We are currently on track to return to the Moon, which will happen this decade. Then, we should use the knowledge of human permanence in space, developed on the International Space Station, and what we will learn through travelling in deep space by coming back to the Moon, to go even further. I believe that Mars is a goal that still attracts us, because it is the most similar planet to ours and the closest. If we want to become an interplanetary species, that must be one of our goals.
And what about Luca Parmitano's future? Are you thinking about a lunar mission?
Even more than a little thought, in reality. I am still in the middle of my operational life, and I have a good experience behind me with the International Space Station. If our future, as an international community, as the European Space Agency, is to go to the Moon, I really hope to be a good candidate for one of the future missions.
What did you miss most when you were in space?
The time spent with my daughters, the ones I love, with my friends, with family, but in particular with my daughters. It is this human contact that makes us human beings, and man is a social being.
The Space Chronicles you have been sending us from the ISS have been very popular, so we asked our viewers and followers to ask you some questions. Mira wants to know: What’s do you feel when you were look at the Earth on one side and at the deep space on the other?
A mixture of emotions. Deep space is extremely beautiful as far as I am concerned. It is the last of the great mysteries to be discovered, the last horizon to reach for. You feel that especially during extravehicular activities, immersed in this darkness. On the other side, the Earth, our planet, our home, the cradle of life, the only planet we know that hosts life. Its beauty is unfortunately indescribable, or perhaps it is fortunate that it's indescribable.
Let's close with Corina: how do you see daily life on Earth, now, after having spent more than six months in space?
Extremely precious, extremely fragile. Something to be preserved in all its forms.