Roberto Vittori will become the first ESA astronaut of Italian nationality to reach the International Space Station on board a Russian spacecraft. Once there, he will experience life and work on the largest habitable man-made structure in space.
Together with Mission Commander Yuri Gidzenko (Russian) and Flight Participant Mark Shuttleworth (South African), Vittori will blast off on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan for a 10-day mission.
The three men will live and work on board the Space Station for eight days alongside the resident crew – Expedition Four Commander Yuri Onufrienko and Flight Engineers Dan Bursch and Carl Walz.
In recognition of the 13th century Italian explorer and the extensive participation by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Vittori’s ‘taxi’ flight has been dubbed the ‘Marco Polo’ mission.
The flight, the fourth exchange of a Soyuz spacecraft – which currently serves as the main rescue vehicle for the Space Station crew in case of an on board emergency – is being undertaken under a framework agreement between ESA and the Russian space agency, Rosaviakosmos.
Vittori will fly in the left seat of the vehicle as Flight Engineer throughout all phases of the mission. Two days after launch the spacecraft will approach and dock automatically with the Space Station.
During his stay Vittori will be involved in a number of experiments, primarily in life sciences. The crew will return to Earth aboard the Soyuz lifeboat currently at the Station which, after six months in orbit, is now approaching its ‘best before’ date.
Vittori’s maiden flight into orbit continues the involvement of ESA’s astronauts in the development of the Space Station and represents a further sign of Europe and Russia’s determination to reinforce their fruitful cooperation.