11 Jun 2015

Meet Samantha Cristoforetti – record-breaking astronaut

Samantha Cristoforetti becomes the longest serving female astronaut in space after spending 200 days on the International Space Station and tells would-be scientists: “no dream is too big”.

Serving as a Flight Engineer during the Futura mission which launched on 23 November 2014, Samantha Cristoforetti ran new experiments in weightlessness and took over experiments started on previous expeditions.

Due to return home in May, the astronauts’ return was postponed for a month after a Russian space agency freighter burned up in the atmosphere, putting further launches on hold until the incident had been investigated. It was this delay that took Cristoforetti past the previous record of 195 days set by Nasa astronaut Sunita Williams in 2012.

‘No dream is too big’

A few days before the mission ended she posted a video thanking friends and supporters, among them the actress Susan Sarandon, who she talked to while in space.

Thanking the actress for expressing her commitment to encourage girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, Christoforetti said: “maybe in the future we can work together to help sparkle that passion and that interest for STEM and to show that no dream is too big.”

Captain Cristoforetti, who already has 500 hours flying time under her belt as a fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force, was selected as a European Space Agency astronaut in May 2009.

Rocket science

Born in Milan in 1977, while taking a masters in mechanical engineering in Germany she specialised in aerodynamics and rocket science. Having completed a further degree in aeronautical sciences, she went on to graduate top of the class at the Italian Air Force academy in 2005. She is trained to fly a variety of fighter jets.

The multi-lingual scientist says she enjoys hiking, scuba diving, yoga and the Chinese language.

With her on the mission were Russian cosmonaut Anton Skhaplerov and US astronaut Terry Virts.