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What is Samantha Cristoforetti doing in her space “walk”

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What is Samantha Cristoforetti doing in her space “walk”

It was the first to leave the International Space Station (the ISS). Almost an hour later than scheduled, when it was 16.58 in Italy, Samantha Cristoforetti emerged from the Russian segment of the orbiting outpost, through the first hatch of the Poisk docking module (open at 4:49 pm).

“Everything ok” was heard communicating via radio (and in Russian) a Sergei Korsakov, its support inside the station, without betraying the slightest emotion (it is possible to follow the live broadcast on Nasa and Esa Web TV). Then, in his blue striped Orlan suit, he began to float in space.

Your astronaut friend

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In a few minutes it was joined by the Russian Oleg Artemyev, with whom, shortly before leaving, she had exchanged the traditional greeting of cosmonauts about to soar in the void: “There is a free box” said Cristoforetti. “Here we go!” he had pressed Artemyev, just as Jurij Gagarin exclaimed on the Baikonur ramp on April 12, 1961, in the launch that would consign him to history as the first man to orbit the Earth.

For Artemyev, current commander of the ISS, it is the sixth space walk in his career. For AstroSamantha, however, it is a debut, which also makes it the first ever European in carry out an extravehicular activityor Eve (the first Italian was Luca Parmitano). Even the use of the Orlan suit (“sea eagle”, in Russian) is a first for a Westerner working on the ISS. Made from a single piece with only the customizable gloves, it is a 112 kilogram diving suit designed in Soviet times and first used in 1977. It had already been worn by the German astronaut Thomas Reiter, but on the Mir station.

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Still in progress (it will also be possible to see the passage of the ISS from Italy tonight from 21:44 to 21:48), the Eve of Cristoforetti and Artemyev should last for six hours and 35 minutes. A period in which the two cosmonauts they will place a telescopic armfrom the Zarya module to Poisk, to provide support for future extravehicular activities e they will manually launch ten nanosatellites designed for collect radio-electronic datai: two Tsiolkovsky-Ryazan and eight YuZGu-55, made by students of Ryazan Radio Engineering State University and South-Western State University of Kursk, as part of the “Radioskaf” scientific program.

However, most of the time spent outside the ISS will be dedicated to Preparationfor its first operations on the Russian segment, of the European Robotic Arm (or Era), the 11-meter robotic arm brought into orbit in July 2021. The cosmonauts will move its external control panel, work on the insulation and install a temporary adapter for the mechanical limb. Cristoforetti will check that Era’s camera guard is sharp enough for a laser to guide the arm in picking and moving operations.

Beyond the technical-scientific aspects, the joint extravehicular activity has a political significance important, given that a few days ago Roscosmos, the Federation’s space agency, had officially declared the international collaboration over on the mechanical limb, a “remote manipulator” docked on the Russian segment and able to move around the station automatically .

The Eve of AstroSamantha and Artemyev could instead be there second significant testimony, in a few days, of an unexpected relaxation of international friction, at least beyond the atmosphere: the first to reiterate relations of continuous and peaceful collaboration on the ISS was theNASA administrator, Bill Nelson, who spoke at the end of June at the Council of the European Space Agency hosted in the Netherlands: “The collaboration of astronauts in orbit, including Samantha Cristoforetti, with Russian cosmonauts demonstrates exceptional professionalism”, underlined the number one of NASA, “even that between the ISS control centers, in Houston and Moscow, are not suffering any consequences and this despite the dramatic situation in Ukraine ”. A situation, it should be pointed out, with obvious repercussions beyond the atmosphere.

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Much more unexpected then arrived, the July 15, the announcement of an agreement between NASA and Roscosmos about the resumption of “mixed” flights with astronauts and cosmonauts sitting in the same capsule: from next September the Russians will fly with the SpaceX Crew Dragon, while the Americans will reach the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz. The exchange will take place at par, with no money transfers between the two agencies. It is the first time in the long history of cooperation at the base of the ISS: so far, the 71 American and European astronauts who had used the Russian vehicle to reach the orbiting outpost had paid for a ticket, the cost of which had risen over the years, settling around. at an average value of $ 56 million.

Nor should it be underestimated how the agreement between NASA and Roscosmos was made official at the same time as the announcement of the change at the top of the Russian agency, that to the hot media Dmitry Rogozin – a loyalist of Vladimir Putin and protagonist of an anti-Western rhetoric that became bitter after the start of the war in Ukraine – saw Yuri Borisov succeed.

65 years old, military training, the new director of the Russian space agency was Deputy Minister of Defense (from 2012 to 2018) and, just like Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of the Federation, from 2018 to a few weeks ago, a period in which he was entrusted with the surveillance of military affairs and space. That his appointment came a few hours after the agreement with NASA, an agreement coveted for years but never reached until last Friday, should not be underestimated.

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It is precisely the spacewalk still in progress that confirms the possibility of one space diplomacy successful even, or perhaps above all, in a politically dramatic moment. And Cristoforetti herself, who left for space on April 27, had thought of it again: to those who, a few days before the launch, had asked her what consequences the conflict in Ukraine would have on the mission, she replied: “We will focus on what unites us, not what divides us. I believe that our work is a beacon of hope for understanding between countries ”.

To give further proof of this, it will have until the beginning of October – an extension announced yesterday evening -, when the “Minerva” mission, which includes 41 experiments, six of which from the Italian Space Agency, will end. But meanwhile, while they float in the sidereal void, AstroSamantha and Artemyev are already working on common goals.

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