April 2011 was a month of celebrations on the International Space Station. 12 April is the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight, beginning the human spaceflight era.
Paolo Nespoli celebrated it in space, and a special meeting with an Italian flavour took place soon after during the STS-134 mission. For the first time, two ESA astronauts of Italian nationality were aboard the International Space Station at the same time.
Having already spent four months on the Station, Paolo welcomed his ESA crewmate. Together, they celebrated the 150th anniversary of Italy’s unification as a modern European state. They were both selected by the European Astronauts Corps in 1998 and trained together for many years.
"I am very excited to meet him in space. He is doing a great job on the International Space Station and I am happy to join him up there for two weeks," said Roberto.
The Italian flag was handed over to Roberto Vittori by the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano. An inflight call with the two astronauts and the Italian President was held during the mission.
Italy is the third-largest contributor to ESA programmes and the second to the International Space Station. Italian industry built more than half of the Station’s pressurised volume of the non-Russian segment.