Italy supports European ambitions for International Space Station

Italy is making a significant contribution to the International Space Station thanks to its role in the development of ESA elements, such as the Columbus Laboratory, the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), the Cupola and the scientific payloads: Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL) and the European Drawer Rack (EDR).

The Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM) Leonardo, Raffaello and Donatello – the names of which allow for no mistake regarding their country of origin – have been contributed by Italy directly to the Space Station programme through a bilateral agreement between ASI and NASA.

Their development is a tribute to the expertise of Italy’s technology industry, a fact confirmed by an NASA/ESA agreement to produce other European elements of the Space Station (Nodes 2 and 3) in Italy in exchange for NASA’s launch of the Columbus Laboratory on the Space Shuttle.

Italy’s long-founded participation in the Space Station dates back to former United States’ President, Ronald Reagan, who invited European heads of state to join the programme. As one of the first signatories, Italy has become an important contributing member to the development of one of mankind’s greatest ventures.

The ‘Marco Polo’ mission also marks the importance of Italy’s role in human spaceflight and exploration – yet it was only a decade ago that Italy proudly saw its first astronaut leave Earth for space.

This honour went to Franco Malerba in 1992 who flew as a payload specialist on a Space Shuttle flight. Malerba’s backup on the flight was Umberto Guidoni, who four years later in the summer of 1996, was payload specialist on the STS-75 Tethered Satellite Mission onboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Italy rapidly established its position in space travel and within four years, three Italian astronauts had experienced life in space. Guidoni continued his professional training at NASA’s Houston Space Center where he qualified as an astronaut and set his sights on the International Space Station.

When ESA set up the European Astronaut Corps in 1998, two more candidate astronauts were selected by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) – test pilot Roberto Vittori and engineer Paolo Nespoli.

Now considered the veteran of Italian spaceflight, Guidoni was chosen to return to space in 2001 and made history as the first European to experience life on the Space Station when he delivered the logistics module Raffaello.

Italy’s affinity with space is gathering strength with the visit of Roberto Vittori, who can proudly boast two firsts for his country – the first Italian to fly from the Baikonur cosmodrome on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and the first Italian to hold the post of Flight Engineer.

Setting a standard for Europe, Italy can rightly claim more than one distinction in this project and after Russia and the United States, it was the third country to contribute to the Space Station – with the Leonardo module in March 2001.

Last update: 23 April 2002

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