Paolo Nespoli, the Italian astronaut that, since July 28, has been on the International Space Station (ISS) for the European Space Agency (ESA), is due to return to Earth on December 14. This date will mark the end of ‘Expedition 53’, in which Nespoli took part with astronauts from both Roscosmos – Alexander Misurkin, and Sergey Ryazanskiy – and NASA – Randy Bresnik, Joe Acaba, and Mark Vande Hei.

During his stay on the ISS, Nespoli completed more than 60 experiments for the Italian ‘VITA’ mission – which stands for Vitality, Innovation, Technology and Ability – ranging from biomedicine and physiology to the science of materials and physics. His own body was the object of the experiments that will help scientists understand how humans adapt to life in space: his eyes, headaches, sleeping patterns, eating habits, temperature recordings, muscle exercises, and saliva samples were regularly monitored. But he also tested an anti-radiation jacket filled with water conceived by the University of Pavia and Thales Alenia Space to protect astronauts from the radiation they are exposed to during space travel, and an augmented reality app that helps the astronauts with maintenance operations on board the ISS.

“There are only a couple of days left to the end of the mission, we are closing the activities, however, the station work does not stop with us: it is a laboratory house that continues independently of the alternating astronauts”, said Nespoli, “It has been a pleasure and an honor to have the opportunity to work in such an incredible workshop, where I represented ASI – Agenzia Spaziale Italiana – and ESA, and in which I was able to bring a piece of Italy.” Thinking about the future Nespoli commented: “Going to Mars is a dream for all astronauts, it’s like asking a child if he wants an ice cream. If I had the chance I would go there, why not, in fact, put me on the list of those who want to go to Mars.”

However, the return trip for Nespoli will be longer and more complicated than many imagine. First he will have to face the difficult journey on the Soyuz spacecraft that Nespoli described as “it’s like entering the home fridge”; then, once on Earth, he will have to follow a rehabilitation and recovery program in Houston, during which, among other things, he will have to re-learn how to walk; finally, in February, Nespoli will return to Italy. Once back in his home-country he will take part in “a challenging and interesting program to spread as much as possible the message that scientific activities, and the desire to realize one’s passions are important to make us feel fulfilled and to improve the human species.”

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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