Italy’s First Female Astronaut Among New ISS Crew Members

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Three new crew members, including Italy’s first female astronaut, arrived on the International Space Station (ISS) after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan onboard a Russian Soyuz rocket on Sunday.
NASA astronaut Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) lifted off at 2101 GMT (4.01 p.m. EST) Sunday and arrived at a berthing port on the Russian side of the orbiting laboratory approximately six hours later, according to Reuters reporter Irene Klotz.
The trio joins fellow Expedition 42 members Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA and Alexander Samoukutyaev and Elena Serova of Roscosmos on the ISS, where they will “continue to take advantage of the orbital lab’s unique microgravity environment and expand the scope of research,” NASA said in a blog post overnight.
The six-person crew will “perform experiments that cover human research, biological and physical sciences, technology development and Earth observations as well as engage in educational activities,” the US space agency added. They are also “scheduled to greet a host of cargo vehicles during their mission,” oversee “the departure of the final European ATV cargo spacecraft” and “conduct up to three US spacewalks,” it added.

Image Above: In the front row, from left are the newest Expedition 42 crew members Anton Shkaplerov, Samantha Cristoforetti and Terry Virts. In the back are Elena Serova, Commander Barry Wilmore and Alexander Samokutyaev. They are in the Zvezda service module for a traditional crew greeting ceremony with family and mission officials on the ground. Credit: NASA TV
Those tasks will take place over the next six months, Klotz said, and the spacewalks are designed to help get the space station prepared for the arrival of a new fleet of American-designed commercial space vehicles designed to begin ferrying astronauts to the ISS in late 2017. Wilmore, Samoukutyaev and Serova will return to Earth in March 2015, and Virts (who will become Expedition 43 Commander), Shkaplerov and Cristoforetti follow in May.
The 37-year-old Cristoforetti, a pilot with the Italian Air Force, is that country’s first female astronaut. With her joining Serova, a 38-year-old engineer from Russia, on board the space station, it marks only the second time in the 16-year history of the facility that two women are part of the long-term ISS crew, according to the AP Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn.
Despite the rarity of the situation, both astronauts have deflected questions about the gender issue.
According to the Reuters reporter, Cristoforetti was asked about being Italy’s first female astronaut during a webcast prelaunch press conference from Kazakhstan over the weekend. She said that she had “done nothing special” to earn that right, and that she “just wanted to fly to space and I happen to be the first.”
Dunn added that, prior to Serova’s departure, Russian reporters asked her if she was taking makeup with her, and wondered what hairdo she would sport during her time in space. She ignored the first question, but responded to the second by asking the reporter why the question wasn’t directed to male counterpart Alexander Samokutyaev.
“To Americans old enough to remember, it felt like a time machine hurtling back to 1983 and Sally Ride’s first flight into space when she got similar questions,” Dunn said. “Both Serova and Cristoforetti will spend six months aboard the 260-mile-high complex, following in the footsteps of nine American women who logged lengthy stays. Two of those US women shared the place in 2010, with four men. Another two women rose to station commander rank.”
“Cristoforetti is the first woman assigned to a lengthy space station mission by the European Space Agency,” she added. “Serova is one of only four Russian women to fly in space and the first to live at this space station. It was 1963 when Russia launched the world’s first spacewoman, Valentina Tereshkova, beating America by two full decades, and 1984 when it flew the first world’s female spacewalker, Svetlana Savitskaya.”
[ Watch the Video: Expedition 42/43 Launches To The International Space Station ]
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