Rome

Parmitano makes first Italian space walk

Sicilian, 36, carries out work outside space station

Parmitano makes first Italian space walk

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, July 9 - Luca Parmitano strode into Italian space history Tuesday when he became the first astronaut from Galileo's homeland to walk in space. The 36-year-old Sicilian, the youngest person to be given a long-duration assignment on the International Space Station (ISS), was keenly watched on a live video link from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) near Rome as he took the first of Italy's steps in a joint programme between the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA and the Russian space agency. The tension was palpable at ASI'S Data centre in the hills outside Frascati as Parmitano carried out the most daring and difficult part of the walk. Head-down, Parmitano crawled along the outside of the ISS, clinging onto a robotic arm operated from the inside by his American crewmate Karen Nyberg. "Go, Luca go," said ASI chief Enrioco Saggese into his monitor. "We have realised a dream," Saggese went on, stressing that Parmitano's achievement was "a real landmark for Italian space activity". "It took us 21 years to get this far," Saggese remarked, recalling the first-ever mission by Italy's first astronaut, Franco Malerba, in 1992. Saggese smiled as Parmitano teamed up with fellow spacewalker Chris Cassidy, another US astronaut, to carry out the walk's main mission. Working together, the pair began to disassemble one of the ISS's platforms so that they can mount a new set of thermal radiators that will enable the ISS to burn off the excess energy from its array of solar panels. Several of the Frascati team cheered as Parmitano started getting down to work with Cassidy on the crucial operation. Before setting out across the ISS, Parmitano performed another key task: photographing the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) anti-matter hunter. The AMS, a $2-billion, seven-tonne monster designed to trawl for anti-matter as well as spotting traces of the dark matter that makes up 25% of the universe, has to be regularly checked. "Taking a snapshot of the AMS is important to get a precise idea of this essential instrument's state of health," said Claudio Sollazzo, director of the European Space Agency's Columbus mission. Italy has been breathlessly looking forward to Parmitano's bold new step since he blasted into space at the end of May. Upon launching on May 29, Parmitano was delighted after 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 Paternò near Catania laughed when he got his first look at Collins since their long training sessions. "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. Parmitano, a major in the Italian air force, trained for a year in Russia before co-piloting a Soyuz TMA spacecraft to the ISS where he will carry out various tasks 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 shut-eye. 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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