Published in the September 2015 issue of Goddard View
Astronauts Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti spent 200 days conducting some of the most complex science experiments in a zero-gravity environment aboard the International Space Station. Three months after returning, Virts and Cristoforetti are now dedicating part of their time to sharing their spaceflight adventures with the public and inspiring future generations of space explorers.
In September, in front of a packed auditorium, both astronauts presented their experiences during a visit to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Along with Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, they returned to Earth in June aboard a Soyuz spacecraft after serving on Expeditions 42 and 43 aboard the space station. Cristoforetti worked as a flight engineer on both expeditions. Virts worked as a flight engineer on the former and commanded the latter.
During their video presentation, the astronauts recalled projects and everyday tasks such as using 3-D printers to make a wrench, going on a spacewalk and even attempting to cut each other’s hair.
“Life in space is fun. It’s also a lot of hard work,” said Virts. “It’s a very busy 200 days. It takes a lot of effort to keep all of the pieces and parts of the space station moving.”
Having graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Virts is also a military pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 40 different aircraft. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and piloted S TS-130, an Endeavour mission to the space station, in 2010.
“The biggest part of a mission is training for it,” Virts said of his latest trip to the orbiting laboratory. “We did a lot of training on the ground to learn about the types of scientific experiments we would do in space.”
Cristoforetti, a member of the European Space Agency’s astronaut corps since 2009, holds the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman after her latest voyage. She is the first Italian woman in space and also holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight by a European astronaut. She attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, during her teenage years and is its second alumna to fly into space.
In addition, Cristoforetti is the first astronaut to brew an espresso outside of Earth. On weekends, when the astronauts had some downtime, they built an espresso machine that had been planned for several years.
“I was contacted a couple of years ago before the flight by an Italian espresso company,” she said. “I started to put people in contact, and then there was this project to put together an espresso machine. I thought, ‘This is a crazy, but motivated, team.’”
During additional free time, the astronauts chatted with family and friends over the phone and had dinner with their Russian colleagues. The international effort of space exploration helps bring countries together for a common goal, according to Cristoforetti.
“When you have a common interest, you can’t afford to let differences deteriorate or escalate,” Cristoforetti said. “We should work together as much as possible to get things done in the world.”