Italian astronaut officially becomes first European woman to command ISS

Italian astronaut officially becomes first European woman to command ISS
Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. Credit: ESA

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti officially became on Wednesday afternoon the first European woman to be the Commander of the International Space Station (ISS).

Cristoforetti, who in 2009 was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to become Italy’s first female astronaut, will from Wednesday onwards fulfil the role of commander of the ISS, a large spacecraft which serves as a laboratory where astronauts live and work that is currently in orbit around Earth, making her the first European woman to take on this position.

“I am humbled by my appointment to the position of commander and look forward to drawing on the experience I’ve gained in space and on Earth to lead a very capable team in orbit," Cristoforetti said following the announcement of her position.

She officially became commander on Wednesday 28 September following a traditional handover ceremony that centres around the symbolic passing of a key from the previous commander.

Pushing boundaries for female representation

Cristoforetti, aged 45, took over the role from fellow Expedition 67 crew member Oleg Artemyev, becoming the fifth European ISS commander, following in the footsteps of previous ESA astronauts Frank De Winne, Alexander Gerst, Luca Parmitano and Thomas Pesquet.

"Samantha’s wealth of knowledge and experience makes her an excellent candidate for this role. As the first European woman to fulfil the position of commander, she once again pushes forward boundaries for female representation in the space sector," David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, said.

Aside from being internationally recognised for her achievements as an astronomer, Cristoforetti is also well-known for her TikTok account, on which she posts videos ranging from her carrying out various tasks in space to practising yoga in weightlessness.

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The ISS' commander is responsible for the performance and well-being of the crew on orbit, maintaining effective communication with the teams on Earth, and coordinating the crew response in case of emergencies, according to ESA.

Cristoforetti's command is taking place in the final weeks of her stay on-board, meaning one of her major duties will also be to ensure a smooth and comprehensive handover to the next expedition crew.

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