ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano has arrived at the International Space Station following a six-hour journey alongside crewmates NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov in the Russian Soyuz MS-13 spacecraft. Their arrival marks the start of Expedition 60 and Luca's second mission to the Space Station, known as 'Beyond'.
The trio was launched into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on 20 July 2019, 18:28 CEST and docked to the Station on 00:50:40 CEST on 21 July. After docking, the crew conducted thorough checks on the seals before being welcomed on board by NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Nick Hague, along with Russian cosmonaut and current Space Station commander Alexei Ovchinin when the Soyuz hatch opened at 03:04 CEST on 21 July.
Over the next six months, Luca will support more than 50 European experiments as well as 200 international experiments. These include investigations into how aspects of the human body are affected by microgravity and how astronauts could control robots remotely during lunar exploration.
When Alexei Ovchinin departs the Space Station at the end of Expedition 60, Luca will also take on the role of Space Station commander for Expedition 61. This is the third time a European astronaut and the first time an ESA astronaut from Italy has held this position. Luca will follow ESA astronauts Frank De Winne (2009) and Alexander Gerst (2018) when he takes command later this year.
Frank, who is now head of ESA’s astronaut centre in Cologne, Germany, says Luca’s appointment to the role of commander is a reflection of ESA’s standing among international space agencies: “People can rely on us, and they do rely on us,” he said. “Not only in terms of the hardware that we provide - to the Space Station and the service module for the Orion spacecraft, but also in the area of crew operations. I think that is a very good result of the investment that ESA Member States make.”
Bringing the Moon into focus
Launching 50 years after the first Apollo Moon landing, it is fitting that Luca will work on experiments designed to aid the future of space exploration.
These experiments include BioRock, which aims to help scientists understand whether microbes used to ‘biomine’ on Earth could also work on other planetary bodies, and to examine how communities of microorganisms grow on rocks in space.
Luca will also test and operate ESA’s Life Support Rack, designed to recycle carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen as part of ESA’s goal to enable astronauts to live independently from Earth on a sustainable basis. He will also operate an Earth-based rover from the International Space Station testing remote operations that could be applied on the Moon.
Results from these experiments will support ESA’s contribution to the lunar Gateway and the Heracles mission to the Moon in ongoing work with international partners.
“What has happened today is part of our journey forward to the Moon,” said ESA Director General Jan Wörner. “With our international partners, we are excited to be part of a new generation of space explorers, giving research opportunities and access to space to all of our Member States."
Stepping into space
Luca has also been preparing for spacewalks, working with teams on the ground to develop new procedures and tools to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02).
Installed outside the Space Station in 2011, AMS-02 is a particle physics detector collecting cosmic rays to help scientists understand dark matter and antimatter. It was initially only meant to operate in space for three years, but it was so successful in its mission that its life has been extended. To enable this to happen, three of its four cooling pumps require repair in a challenging spacewalk.
Luca’s activities during the Beyond mission are part of ESA’s long-term vision to send the first Europeans beyond Earth orbit and establish Europe as a key partner in humankind’s exploration of the Solar System.
Working with international partners, ESA seeks to bring new knowledge, innovation and inspiration to all European citizens and increase accessibility for researchers through new Space Station facilities such as the International Commercial Experiments service (ICE Cubes) installed in the Columbus module in 2018.
“What we are learning in low Earth orbit will enable the next generation to go farther and keep exploring. For us to be able to go back to the Moon and towards Mars, we have to know how to survive and operate in those worlds. That is where the Space Station comes into play,” Luca says.
Latest updates from Luca
The first European press conference with Luca live from the Space Station is planned for 29 July at the Leonardo di Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, Italy. This is open to European media and will be broadcast live.
Further updates from the Beyond mission will be published online at: http://lucaparmitano.esa.int/
Here you can also access the ESA Explores podcast, which will feature updates and interviews with astronaut experts throughout the mission.