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First Italian woman in space will share experience through social media

Elizabeth Howell, News Writer
Nov 19, 2014, 23:17 UTC

Sen—She speaks an intimidating array of languages, she is a master of social media, and in a much quieter way, she is a very capable military pilot.

Now, after a lifetime of dreaming of spaceflight and years of working towards that goal, Samantha Cristoforetti is set to become the first Italian woman in space—and she is promising to share the experience via Twitter and Google+.

Cristoforetti was selected in 2009 along with six other European astronauts, who call themselves "the Shenanigans". Last year, fellow Italian Luca Parmitano spent about half a year on the International Space Station. But through the spaceflight training, and the ones who have journeyed into orbit so far, the classmates share a special bond, according to Cristoforetti.

"I'm grateful to have the best job in the world," Cristoforetti said recently in an interview for the European Space Agency. "For all six of us, as part of the new class of European astronauts, this is the beginning of a new life."

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European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti outside the Soyuz spacecraft that will aim for the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA/Victor Ivanov

Once Cristoforetti arrives in orbit, her focus will be (as with all astronauts) conducting a dizzying array of health and scientific experiments in orbit. Her post will be crew medical officer, acting as a liasion between the crew and Earth in case of medical issues.

There will be other, more symbolic milestones as well. Cristoforetti will be there when the final automated transfer vehicle (ATV)—constructed as part of Europe's agreement on the space station—leaves and burns up in the atmosphere. She will also assist with any cargo vehicles that arrive during her time there, such as SpaceX's Dragon.

Cristoforetti was born in Milan in 1977 and has a mechanical engineering degree from Munich University and an aeronautical sciences degree at the University of Naples. She joined the Italian Air Force Academy in 2001, graduating four years later. Today she has accumulated more than 500 hours of flight time.

During and after assignment to her mission, which she dubs Futura, Cristoforetti has been making frequent posts on Twitter and particularly Google+ describing her training. A recent one described all the "failures" her Soyuz spacecraft experienced during a simulation, to better prepare the astronauts for such scenarios in orbit.

"The Soyuz does have a lot of options to down-mode reentry following all kinds of failures: One way or another, it brings you home," Cristoforetti wrote.

Her expected arrival in space will make her the seventh Italian to travel that far, and only the second one to do a long-duration mission. Cristoforetti is expected to launch Sunday with Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and NASA's Terry Virts, who will both begin their second spaceflight.