Parmitano starts mission for first Italian spacewalk

Sicilian air force major heads up to ISS

Parmitano starts mission for first Italian spacewalk

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, May 29 - Luca Parmitano on Wednesday zoomed up to the International Space Station to boldly go where no Italian has before him, walking into space. Parmitano, a 36-year-old Sicilian who is the youngest person to be given a long-duration ISS assignment, is set to perform "at least two" spacewalks in July, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) said at a ceremony in Rome. "I did so much to get him into the ISS and now he's going to leave it," quipped ASI chief Enrico Saggese. Saggese reckoned Parmitano's march into history would give Italy a much-needed boost. "At times of crisis like this, such successes in space should supply a bit of confidence and a spur to do better, to go forward," he told a joint press conference with Defence Minister Mario Mauro and Education and Research Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza, an internationally renowned bio-robotics and neurorobotics expert. Mauro said "this mission will help us to grasp how space can help to change the way we live". Carrozza, one of seven women ministers in Enrico Letta's new 21-strong government team, said it "underscored the fundamental importance of space research". The long-time academic high-flier, a star product of Pisa's prestigious Sant'Anna School, said experiments in microgravity "are very important for studies on the human factor and the effects it has on microbiological systems. "Italy is at the cutting edge in this sector, and there could be major industrial offshoots. There are massive implications, of which I'm well aware because I've worked in the sector, I know it well". Asked about government funding for Italian firms trying to exploit space finds in a climate of austerity, she said: "We'll have to do a few sums, of course, so we can understand how to move forward". Parmitano himself was delighted after already setting a new time for the fastest trip to the ISS, just over six hours, from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, the launchpad for Yuri Gagarin in 1961. "Ciao Mamma," he beamed on a video link to Rome, sparking comments in the Twittersphere including "he looks like the happiest man in the universe" and "Parmitano is out of this world". The pioneering astronaut from Paterno' near Catania laughed when he saw his soon-to-be spacewalk companion, Chris Collins of the USA. "Your hair is buzzed off as much as mine, we're really streamlined," he chuckled before joining his new crewmates in a well-earned eight-hour sleep. Saggese said Parmitano might have a chance to get out in space sooner than expected. "There's a laser rear-view mirror on the ISS that is a bit wonky, and may have to be adjusted before the ATV refuelling module docks in a couple of weeks," the ASI head said. Parmitano, a major in the Italian air force, trained for a year in Russia before copiloting a Soyuz TMA spacecraft to the ISS where he will venture out to work on its external platform during a six-month stint on the station. His mission will involve numerous scientific experiments and will also feature good Italian food. Italian chefs have prepared and carefully dehydrated everything from lasagna to tiramisu', eggplant parmigiana, pesto risotto and mushroom risotto which Parmitano will share with others on board the ISS. Sealed in aluminium bags, the Italian food reached the space station before Parmitano. "I'm really looking forward to my first weightless meal," Parmitano said before catching his pre-mission shuteye. The mission couldn't have a more upbeat Italian name: 'Volare' ('Flying'), after the world-famous 1958 song by Domenico Modugno.

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