In late May, Milan native Samantha Cristoforetti was selected as one the six new members of the European Space Agency's (ESA) 16-member flight team, becoming the first European woman and first Italian woman on the team.
The 32-year-old pilot in the Italian Air Force has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Munich and underwent years of difficult training to become a candidate for the team. Along with Cristoforetti, another Italian, 33-year-old Air Force test pilot Luca Parmitano, joins the two other Italians already on the ESA space team, Roberto Vittori and Paolo Nespoli, both of whom have made multiple trips to the International Space Station.The ESA launched a recruitment drive last year, its biggest since 1992, to support a host of new projects at the European Astronaut Centre and the International Space Station. The six new astronauts were selected from a pool of 9,000 applicants from the ESA's 17 member nations.
After completing her studies in Germany, Cristoforetti graduated from Italy's Aeronautical Academy in 2005. She speaks fluent German, English and French, in addition to her native Italian, and has good knowledge of Russian. Her hobbies include scuba diving, reading, yoga, swimming, skiing, and mountain biking.
‘It's hard to say what I'm feeling, even in Italian', said Cristoforetti at a press conference in Paris, ‘Space flight has always fascinated me.'