No Fear of Flying: Milanese air force pilot is first female Italian astronaut

Samantha Cristoforetti became Italy’s first woman astronaut this year when a 32-year-old Italian Air Force pilot be­came the European Space Agency’s first female pick.

She is one of six individuals who will become Europe’s new astronauts. The new recruits will join the European As­tronaut Corps and start their training to prepare for future missions to the Inter­national Space Station, and beyond.

Samantha Cristoforetti was born in Milan, Italy, in 1977. She studied at the Technische Universität Munich, Germany, the Ecole Nationale Supéri­eure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse, France, and the Mendeleev University of Chemical Technologies in Moscow, Russia. Samantha Cristoforetti, 32, an air force lieutenant with an engi­neering degree and a passion for scuba diving, was among the six new members of ESA’s astronaut team.

‘’It’s hard to say what I’m feeling, even in Italian,’’ said Cristoforetti, who speaks several languages.

‘’Space flight has always fascinated me,’’ she told a packed press conference in Paris.

‘’I feel lucky to be here,’’ she added, thanking all those who supported her through a final year of gruelling training.

‘’I think we’re going to be a good team,’’ Cristoforetti said of the ESA flight force whose numbers have been boosted from ten to 16.

Another Italian, 33-year-old air force test pilot Luca Parmitano, was among the happy six.

‘’It’s an incredible moment,’’ he said, thanking his parents and wife ‘’without whom I don’t think I would ever have been able to reach this goal’’.

The final selection from thousands of aspiring space cadets was announced by ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dor­dain and personnel chief Simonetta Di Pippo.

A Milan native, Cristoforetti attended scientific lycee’ in Trento before getting a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Munich.

She graduated from Italy’s Aeronauti­cal Academy in 2005.

Cristoforetti speaks fluent German, English and French and has a good work­ing knowledge of Russian.

As well as scuba diving, she lists her hobbies as reading, yoga, swimming, ski­ing, mountain biking and caving.

The six new astronauts were selected from some initial 9,000 applicants from ESA’s 17 member nations.

ESA launched its recruitment drive last year, its biggest since 1992, to boost the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in light of new projects, especially at the International Space Station (ISS).

Two of ECA’s team are already Italian, Roberto Vittori and Paolo Nespoli, who are both set for more spells aboard the ISS in the near future.

Cristoforetti holds a master’s degree in engineering, as well as a master’s de­gree in aeronautical sciences from the University of Naples Federico II in Italy. Lt. Cristoforetti is a fighter pilot with the Italian Air Force. In her leisure time, she enjoys mountaineering, scuba diving and caving.