Redbull hangár

Redbull hangár

2013. március 4., hétfő

The sky is the limit!

Text: Gabriella, photos and videos: ESA 

I'm always amazed by the fact, how far can you get with ambition and persistence. Luca Parmitano is a good example for it.

The first parabolic flight - Luca is in the middle, holding a box (ESA-A. Le floc'h)

When I met him at Fairford Military Airshow in 2004, I was just wandering there, looking for the Starfighters. I was told that the Italian Air Force would send them to retirement in that year so this would be their last appearance abroad and I wanted to see this type. After not finding them at the static row, I went to an Italian jet pilot who was standing at the barrier alone to ask for some information. He was Luca. He told me, that the Starfighters didn’t come finally and asked if I would be satisfied with the AMX too, because he arrived with that aircraft. I said OK, so then I could walk around this type with his guidance. Later we exchanged some e-mails, in which he told me his adventures with his jet. It was really good to read his stories as he had an excellent writing style. But unfortunately the communication has broken off after some time. Since I got know an intelligent, determined and nice man in the person of him, it often came up to my mind weather what happened to him.

Then last year I typed in his name on Facebook and I was really surprised by the result. It has turned out, that he was very busy in the past years. He has got every possible qualification to AMX by 2007, then he served as a test pilot at his home air force and flown 20 type of aircraft during this time. The number of his flight hours is 2.000 on military aircraft. But which amazed me the most: he was chosen from thousands of candidate by ESA (European Space Agency) to their astronaut program in 2009 and thanks to the agreement between the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and NASA he will go to the International Space Station (ISS) this May as a member of Expedition 36/37 to spend there 6 months! He was appointed to a mission first from his six-member class, which wasn’t too surprising to me taking his above mentioned qualities. He’s commuting between the space centres of Houston, Cologne and Baikonur in the scope of his training. (He will start his space journey from the latter one with the Soyuz spacecraft.) This will be the 5th long-duration mission for an ESA astronaut and Luca will be the 4th Italian who visits the ISS. Even more, he had a compatriot at the basic training: Samantha Cristoforetti as the first female cosmonaut of her home country. It seems that Italy really takes seriously the participation in space research.
At the beginning, there will be 6 astronauts on the ISS, but further 2 will join them in September. I guess they won’t have a huge living space and the ISS is certainly not a luxury accommodation, but most probably it has the most star :-)
Searching more on the net I learnt, that Luca pursues such extreme sports like scuba diving, climbing and paragliding. 

I was happy to see, that his career is going so well and decided to find him and ask him for telling me more about his training. Fortunately he said yes, I made the interview below via e-mail.

(ESA-S. Corvaja, 2012)

When we met a few years ago in Fairford, you told me your main career goal: becoming a test pilot. You’ve done it, which is an amazing success story in itself. Where did the idea come from to step to an even higher level and enter the ESA astronaut program?
When I was a little boy, I remember watching on TV the first Space Shuttle astronauts performing EVAs. In my mind, they were the same that went to the Moon, and I knew about them because it was already a collective memory (even though I didn't see it, I felt as if I did). I think since then I started dreaming about being an astronaut. 

You do extreme sports like scuba diving. What do you think; did it increase your chance to be selected to the astronaut program?
I don't think scuba diving is an extreme sport, but it's an activity which puts you in an environment which is not natural for human beings. I think that being comfortable in a situation which is unusual can be considered an important quality for an astronaut.  

Spacewalk training (ESA-H. Rueb)

I read it in a former press release, that you’ve been the best in your astronaut class. Is it the reason why you were the first who was chosen to a mission?
I take your question as a compliment, but I don't think there is such a thing as "the best astronaut" in any class. We all qualified, and we all worked together to our best. We're certainly very different, and all have different qualities and backgrounds. I really don't know the reason why I was selected to fly this mission: there are international committees who participate in the process, and I'm just grateful that I have a mission.

What will be your tasks at the ISS?
During the launch and re-entry phases with the Soyuz spacecraft I will be the Flight Engineer 1, which roughly corresponds to a co-pilot role: I will be responsible for the spacecraft systems and support the Commander - I'm also qualified to perform all of the Commander's duties, like manual rendezvous, docking and landing.
On the Station, I will be responsible for Columbus (space laboratory – the author) and ATV (unmanned resupply spacecraft which ensures the propellant, water and air for example at the ISS and even could reboost it into a higher orbit – source: Wikipedia), I will perform a series of experiments (over 20 of which will be European and Italian), will operate the Robotic Arm and, if the plan stays as is, I will also be performing some Extra Vehicular Activities.

Still spacewalk training (ESA-H. Rueb)

Please tell me something about the main phases of your training. What was the most interesting, funniest or favourite part of the training for you so far?
Training as an astronaut means that every day I get to do something different, learn something new, work with enthusiastic people. It's the most intense, fulfilling career I could dream of. It's really hard to point out something specific. However, since my background is operational, I have the most fun during the Soyuz simulations or the EVA (spacewalk) training.

How do you get along with the Russian language?
I really like studying new languages, because they are a window to completely unknown worlds, and a huge part of culture. Russian is a difficult language to study, but after training in Star City for the past two years I have made a lot of Russian friends, and I get along well enough.

How do you relax after a hard training day? If with music, what do you like to listen to the most?
I like to relax working out, either in a gym, or swimming, running, biking. I also started playing the guitar, because I don't like watching TV. I also read a lot, especially when traveling. I enjoy all music, but my favourites are classic rock (the Beatles more than anything else) and jazz, modern artists like Pat Metheny and Keith Jarret.

With his future fellow travelers: Karen L. Nyberg and Fyodor Yurchikhin (ESA-S. Corvaja, 2012)

Still they in the Soyuz simulator (ESA-S. Corvaja, 2012)

Don’t you miss your AMX sometimes?
I certainly miss flying, because I have not had time while training, but here is what I tell myself: it took about 8 years to fly 2000hrs, and after only 3 years as an astronaut I get to fly 4000hrs on the ISS!

What does flying mean to you?
It's what defines me as a professional.

I read it in your biography, that you have licenses to 20 different kinds of aircraft what is amazing. How can it be and what are these types exactly?
As a test pilot you have the privilege to qualify in a lot of different airplanes (SF260, MB339, T37, T38, AMX) and different versions (single seat, two seat, analogue, digital and so on). But I also qualified as a rotary wings test pilot, so I flew and qualified on several different helicopters (NH500, A109, AB212, AB412, HH3F, Gazelle, AStar, Puma, Dauphin, Sea King) also in various versions.

You will be closed into a very tight place for half a year. How can you train for that?
You can't, but we were selected through a very strict psychological profiling, so I know I will be fine. 

Are you allowed to bring some personal things with you to the ISS? If so, what will be those?
I'm allowed 1.5kg of personal things. I will bring some souvenirs for my family and friends, my wedding rings and my daughters' pictures. And a belt! Because André Kuipers (Dutch ESA astronaut who was in the space two-times and at one of these occasion at the ISS) told me I'll need one. Plus some surprises.

Do you already train the mission tasks together with your mates in the Expedition 36/37?
Yes, we've been training together for 2 years.

Do you count the days till the start?
I don't, because I want to enjoy every day of training and then the flight. But I do have a watch with a countdown, because sometimes people ask and I like to be able to answer.

Luca will wear this special patch on his spacesuit at ISS too, in which you can see the mascot of the Italian test flight squadron's friends. He is a member of this enthusisast community as a test pilot (copyright:, source of the pic:

You can find further photos on Luca’s Twitter ( and Facebook fan page ( ), and I draw the following interesting ESA videos about him to your attention:

Basic training:
ESA astronaut training for ISS:
Training in Star City:
Train like an astronaut!:

First of all a big thank you to Luca Parmitano for spending time to answer my questions beside his strict training schedule; to ESA for giving me the interview making permission and for the excellent photo and video footage; and to Emiliano for being my ambassador and translating the post to Italian to reach an even bigger audience.