ESA astronaut Roberto Vittori, from Italy, dons his Sokol pressure suit in the MIK preparation building in Baykonour, some 4 hours before lift-off for the Marco Polo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), on April 25, 2002. Russian mission commander Yuri Gidzenko is visible in the background. The Marco Polo mission was performed under an agreement between Russia's Rosaviakosmos, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and ESA.
Roberto Vittori and Yuri Gidzenko were launched into space onboard Soyuz TM-34 at 12:26 local time with South African flight participant Mark Shuttleworth. The spacecraft successfully docked with the ISS two days later. One of the mission objectives was to deliver a new emergency crew return vehicle to the permanent crew of the ISS, Russian commander Yuri Onufrienko and NASA flight engineers Dan Bursch and Carl Walz. Roberto Vittori spent one week onboard the orbital outpost, performing experiments, and returned to Earth with his crewmates onboard Soyuz TM-33 on May 5.
A test pilot in the Italian Air Force, Roberto Vittori has logged nearly 2,000 flight hours in over 40 different aircraft.
In July 1998, he was selected as an astronaut by ASI, in cooperation with ESA. In August 1998, he joined ESA's European Astronaut Corps at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany, and was relocated to NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, and entered the 1998 Astronaut class for participation in the space shuttle mission specialist training programme. He also performed technical duties in the Space Shuttle Operations System Branch.
In August 2001 he took up training as onboard engineer at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) in Star City near Moscow.
In August 2002, Roberto Vittori returned to JSC, where he is supporting the New Generation Space Vehicles Branch.