Samantha Cristoforetti

Samantha Cristoforetti

On this date in 1977, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti was born in Milan to Antonella and Sergio Cristoforetti. She completed her secondary education at the Liceo Scientifico in Trento in 1996 after having spent a year in Minnesota as a foreign exchange student at St. Paul Central High School.

She graduated in 2001 from the Technical University of Munich with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with specializations in aerospace propulsion and lightweight structures. She wrote her master’s thesis on solid rocket propellants during a 10-month research stay at the Mendeleev University of Chemical Technologies in Moscow.

As part of her training for the Italian Air Force Academy, Cristoforetti completed a bachelor’s in aeronautical sciences at the University of Naples Federico II in 2005. She earned her fighter pilot wings in 2006 after a joint Euro-NATO training program at Sheppard Air Force Base near Wichita Falls, Texas. She was selected in 2009 as an astronaut by the European Space Agency (ESA) from among over 8,000 applicants, becoming Italy’s first female astronaut.

In 2014 she flew with an American and a Russian astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit. The ISS is jointly owned and operated by the U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada and the ESA. As flight engineer, she stayed 199 days, setting the record for the longest single space flight by a woman until it was broken by American Peggy Whitson in 2017.

Mattel had honored Cristoforetti as a Barbie Shero, “a woman who has broken boundaries in order to inspire the next generation,” and her Barbie Role Model doll in a spacesuit floated in zero gravity next to her aboard the ISS. She had grown up enchanted by Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek,” and one day she posted a photo of her wearing a Starfleet pin and giving the Vulcan salute.

She is also a fan of Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” A short video she made in space to memorialize Adams on her next mission got over 17 million views on TikTok. It shows her using a towel for various tasks, including drying her hair, and ends with “Happy Towel Day. And remember, don’t panic and always know where your towel is.” A towel is “just about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can carry” for practical and psychological reasons, Adams declared in the guide.

Cristoforetti’s second trip to the ISS launched in April 2022. She carried out the first spacewalk by a European woman and became the first European female commander of the ISS during her mission before coming home to Cologne, Germany, in October 2022.

At home were her husband, Lionel Ferra, a native of France employed by the ESA, and their children: Kelsi Amel (b. 2016) and Dorian Lev (b. 2021). Cristoforetti speaks Italian, English, German, French, Russian and Chinese. She published “Diary of an Apprentice Astronaut” in 2020, which was translated from Italian.

Asked once if it was harder becoming an astronaut or a mother, she replied: “I don’t know what was more difficult. In general, I think we should free ourselves from ‘ranking’ things the way journalists do. Real life experiences aren’t like that, you can’t quantify them.” (Sisters of Europe online, February 2019)

Her ESA bio says she “is an avid reader with a passion for science and technology, and an equal interest in humanities. … Occasionally she finds the time to hike, scuba dive or practice yoga.”

PHOTO: Cristoforetti in orbit about 250 miles from Earth; ESA/NASA photo.

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