Vittori ready for unique flying experience

Intensive preparation is an important part of an astronaut’s training and a test pilot background certainly helped ESA’s Italian-born astronaut Roberto Vittori prepare for his latest call to duty – a mission to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket.

The announcement of his maiden voyage into space came as quite a surprise – but with over a decade of military service behind him, Vittori was more than ready to fly as a Flight Engineer on a ‘taxi’ mission to the International Space Station.

Vittori, who had trained at NASA in Houston for four years, was given just a week’s notice before leaving the United States last August to begin the rigorous training regime at Star City, near Moscow.

“The opportunity to gain experience in both US and Russian systems was important for ESA – I was delighted to discover I had been selected and feel extremely privileged and proud to be the first Italian to fly with the Russians,” said Vittori.

Despite his wealth of flying knowledge, the 37-year-old Italian was faced with a number of tough challenges while training for his role as Soyuz Flight Engineer.

“I tried to balance my time and energies very carefully, being aware that you can never achieve 100 percent of your targets, especially in just eight months,” he said.

“Leaving the United States for Russia was certainly a challenge, particularly with the language barrier so at first I concentrated on learning the technical vocabulary that we will use on board the Soyuz.”

Vittori’s months of preparation have covered every aspect of the mission – from sea survival training to learning about the operation of the Space Station’s Russian segment.

Having sat at the controls of over 40 different types of aircraft during his career as a test pilot, he is confident about his role in the Soyuz.

“Training to fly in space has many similarities to flying an aircraft,” he explained. “The crew and I will encounter the unknown – but this is all part of the thrill and excitement of space.”

Once on board the Space Station, the Marco Polo crew have a busy schedule throughout their eight-day stay and Vittori is aware that adapting to the new environment may take a while.

“Getting used to my life in space will not be immediate. Adapting to the microgravity environment and organising my work does not allow for much free time but in between the experiments and reporting to the ground I hope to be lucky enough to have time to look out of the window,” he said.

“This is a very important event in my career and I am looking forward to the drama of lift-off, arriving at the Space Station and greeting the astronauts and cosmonauts already on board,” added Vittori.

The future promises much for ESA’s youngest astronaut and Vittori hopes that his enthusiasm and excitement about space will inspire many of Europe’s young people to work hard and pursue their dreams.

“It is clear that the Earth is becoming smaller and smaller and we should now look to space to learn more about mankind. Anybody who is willing to put their time, energy and effort into space will discover something new – no matter what age they are.

“I believe that we are walking on the edge of a transition and I have no doubt that space has a key role to play in our future.”

Last update: 23 April 2002

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