The first Italian to walk in space

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Astronaut Luca Parmitano. Yuri Kadobnov/AFP
11:34 CEST+02:00
Luca Parmitano landed in space this morning, just over five-and-a-half hours after taking off from Kazakhstan. He's the youngest astronaut to be given a long-duration International Space Station mission and the first Italian to walk in space.

Which part of Italy is Luca Parmitano from and when did he become an astronaut?

He was born in 1976 in Paternò, Sicily and lives in Catania. Many young boys dream of being an astronaut, but Parmitano was one of the lucky few to gain a place at the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2009. But this wasn’t handed to him on a plate. He first studied hard for a degree in political sciences before undertaking an academic course with the Italian Aeronautics academy and training with the US Air Force. Several more years of intense training followed until he was selected by the ESA. He is also a captain in the Italian Air Force and has logged more than 2,000 hours of flying time. What makes this mission - known as Volare, meaning ‘to fly’ - all the more special is that Parmitano is also the first of ESA’s 2009 crop to go into orbit.

So how long will he be in space and what will he do while up there?

He will be there until November and is set to fulfil his lifelong dream of performing not just one, but two, spacewalks in July. Fun stuff aside, his mission will also include lots of heavy-going scientific stuff. This is no nine to five job. The crew will toil for about 70 hours a week conducting experiments on microgravity.

That’s a long time to be without decent Italian food, how will he cope?

That’s all been sorted. Italian chefs have prepared a range of dishes, including lasagne, mushroom and pesto risotto, of which Parmitano is apparently a big fan.

It’s also a long time to be away from his family. How will he communicate with them?

Well the first thing Parmitano did when he landed at the International Space Station this morning was salute his mother with a “ciao mamma!” (hello mum). He then said hello to his wife, Kathy Dillow, and his two daughters. The messages were beamed back to earth through video link. Aside from weekly video conferences, astronauts can communicate with their family via email. Parmitano is also a regular tweeter, while his comings and goings in orbit are being recorded in his blog.

How many other astronauts are keeping him company while up there?

He is joined by Nasa astronaut Karen Nyberg and Russian commander Fyodor Yurchikhin. Nyberg is reported to have said “it was a pretty cool ride”, shortly after landing.

Just the three of them? Are there any other signs of life at the station?

They are not entirely alone. Nasa’s Chris Cassidy and Russia’s Alexander Misurkin and Pavel Vinogradov have been at the space station since late March. They were there to greet them upon landing.

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So what did they do when they first landed?

After letting their families know they arrived safely, they did a round of safety checks, had a snack and prepared their beds for a well-earned sleep, according to Parmitano’s blog.

What does Parmitano like to do when not in orbit?

He likes scuba diving, snowboarding, skydiving, weight training and swimming. He also likes music, so much so he plans to play some Italian music while at the station. He taught himself to play the guitar and plans to treat fellow astronauts to a rendition of Domenico Mudugno’s Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare), which was Italy’s entry into 1958’s Eurovision Song Contest.

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