Samantha Cristoforetti, Italian astronaut who recently became mother for the second time, will be in command of the ISS – the International Space Station in low earth orbit dedicated to scientific research – for Expedition 68 in 2022. She will be the third woman after Peggy Whitson in 2007 and Sunita Williams in 2012. United States, Russia, Canada and Japan and the European Space Agency entrusted their team to the 44-year-old Italian woman.

Samantha Cristoforetti
Samantha Cristoforetti leaves for the International Space Station (2014)

The appointment of Samantha Cristoforetti is causing a lot of talk, especially due to the questioning of the female presence within the world of science: right now, up to 503 men and only 65 women have gone into space. Furthermore, the Russians have never entrusted command of the ISS to any woman. Astrophysics, in particular, is among the scientific disciplines that records the lowest female participation with about 16% of female faculty members, a percentage that has not changed much in the last fifteen years. The Italian astronaut, on the other hand, has always addressed the gender issue and has always encouraged girls to believe in themselves and to participate in ESA‘s hard selection process for the recruitment of European astronauts.

“Returning to the ISS to represent Europe is an honour in itself and I am honoured by my appointment as commander, I look forward to drawing on the experience I have gained in space and on Earth to lead a very competent team in orbit” said Samantha Cristoforetti.

According to the president of the Italian Space Agency, Giorgio Saccoccia, this choice “comes to crown an impeccable professional path and in recognition of the excellence in the space of Italy and Europe”. Congratulations for our astronaut also came from Palazzo Chigi (the Italian Prime Minister Office) and from ESA’s director general, Josef Aschbacher, who said: “This appointment is a source of inspiration for an entire generation that is asking to join the astronaut corps of the ‘ESA. I am looking forward to meeting the final candidates and I take this opportunity to once again encourage women to apply “.

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Samantha Cristoforetti during a conference

Samantha Cristoforetti knows very well how much effort and hard work an astronaut career entails, especially for a woman, and in her book “Diary of an astronaut apprentice” dedicated to her daughter Kelsi Amel, she recounts the hard and long selection to be chosen among the 6 astronauts of ESA. There were 8 thousand candidates and among the requisites there was also that of knowing how to fly a plane. After a terrible night, certain of having failed a test and therefore fearing rejection, Samantha Cristoforetti woke up to the news that she had been selected and her dream had come true.