Samantha Cristoforetti expected to return to the International Space Station as commander
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Samantha Cristoforetti expected to return to the International Space Station as commander

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti trains alongside NASA astronaut and fellow Crew-4 member Bob Hines at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, USA. Samantha is preparing for her second mission to the International Space Station, scheduled to take place in 2022. Photo from ESA.

Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti will be the first European woman astronaut to take command of the International Space Station during her mission scheduled for 2022, the European Space Agency announced Friday in a statement.

Samantha Cristoforetti, 44, a former fighter pilot, is the first Italian woman astronaut. She will launch to the Station in 2022 alongside NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Bob Hines from Florida (US).

This will be the second stay on the ISS for the astronaut, who set the record for the longest stay in space for a woman on a mission after she spent 199 days in orbit in 2014 and 2015.

“Samantha’s nomination to the role of International Space Station commander is an inspiration to a whole generation currently applying to join ESA’s astronaut corps,” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher in a press release, referring to the recent opening of astronaut applications.

“I cannot wait to meet the final candidates and I take this opportunity to once again encourage women to apply.”

Cristoforetti will be the fifth ESA astronaut to take command of the ISS, according to ESA.

The appointment of a captain is made by consensus by a body made up of representatives of the five ISS partner space agencies (the US Nasa, Russia’s Roscosmos, Japan’s JAXA, Canada’s CSA and ESA).

ESA astronaut Frank De Winne of Belgium was the first European commander of the Space Station, and the second Belgian in space.

He now represents ESA on the MCOP as Head of the European Astronaut Centre and says Cristoforetti ’s appointment demonstrates the value placed on ESA astronauts by its international partners.

“Though overall control of the Station lies with flight directors on the ground, the Space Station commander works to foster team spirit amongst the astronauts and between ground and space crews, ensuring all crew members can perform at their best,” explained De Winne.

“Samantha proved herself to be a highly competent and trusted leader during NASA’s NEEMO23 mission, among other activities. Her experience and attitude make her an asset for ESA and our partners and I know she will serve us proudly during her time in space.”