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N° 18–2017: ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli starts third mission on Space Station

27 July 2017

ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik and Roscosmos commander Sergei Ryazansky were launched into space yesterday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 15:41 GMT (17:41 CEST). Their Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft circled Earth four times to catch up with the International Space Station six hours later and the crew are now settling into their new home and place of work for five months.

Paolo’s mission name is ‘Vita’, which stands for Vitality, Innovation, Technology and Ability and was chosen by Italy’s space agency ASI, which is providing the mission through a barter agreement with NASA.

This is Paolo’s third spaceflight and third visit to the Space Station – he has already clocked 174 days in space with previous missions, one flight on a Space Shuttle in 2007 and a five-month mission in 2011.

Today’s flight is the second for Sergei and Randy. The trio are joining NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer  and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, who welcomed them to the orbital outpost.

After docking to the Rassvet module, the hatch between the Soyuz spacecraft and the International Space Station was opened at 23:57 GMT (01:57 CEST) marking the beginning of the Vita mission.

The six astronauts that now live on the Space Station had a brief press conference and link-up with friends and family shortly after their arrival.

It is six years since Paolo’s last visit to the Space Station and the ‘weightless’ laboratory has changed since then. Modules have been relocated and systems have been upgraded. New commercial spacecraft are ferrying supplies to the Station and Paolo will help grapple and dock the regular arrival of cargo ships with the Station’s robotic arm.

Science first

Paolo has a full schedule of science and experiments planned for his five-month mission. He will continue running experiments from the international partners that keep the International Space Station aloft and take part in some as a test subject.

The opportunity to run experiments for a long period of time on the 17-year-old Space Station with state-of-the-art research facilities is what makes the laboratory so attractive for scientists on Earth – from investigating metals, plants and our planet, to understanding the secrets of our Universe.

The first two weeks for Paolo will be spent readapting to living and working in microgravity. While living in space, he will see his spine will grow longer, fluids in his body will shift towards his head and his bones will weaken.

These changes need to be understood so that we can explore our Solar System and send humans farther into space, but they also offer interesting opportunities for researchers looking at the causes of similar ailments on Earth, such as osteoporosis. Astronauts in space undergo a form of rapid aging that is reversible when they return to Earth, making them fascinating case studies.

Follow the mission through Paolo’s eyes on social media via

About the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) provides Europe’s gateway to space.

ESA is an intergovernmental organisation, created in 1975, with the mission to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space delivers benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

ESA has 22 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Slovenia is an Associate Member.

ESA has established formal cooperation with six Member States of the EU. Canada takes part in some ESA programmes under a Cooperation Agreement.

By coordinating the financial and intellectual resources of its members, ESA can undertake programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country. It is working in particular with the EU on implementing the Galileo and Copernicus programmes as well as with EUMETSAT for the development of meteorological missions.

ESA develops the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.

Today, it develops and launches satellites for Earth observation, navigation, telecommunications and astronomy, sends probes to the far reaches of the Solar System and cooperates in the human exploration of space. ESA also has a strong applications programme developing services in the Earth observation, navigation and telecommunications domain.

Learn more about ESA at

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