March is Women’s History Month, and each week we will be highlighting an Italian or Italian American woman for #ItalianoftheWeek. This week, we’re highlighting Italy’s first female astronaut: Samantha Cristoforetti.
Samantha Cristoforetti was born in Milan, Italy on April 26, 1977. Starting at a young age, Samantha developed an interest in space, science, technology, and new experiences. When she was 18, she had the opportunity to live in St. Paul, Minnesota as a foreign exchange student. She decided to study in the U.S. because “it was the country that had the most interesting and exciting space program and the country of Star Trek.” During her time abroad, she attended Space Camp Level II (now called Advanced Space Academy), further cementing her interest in going to space.
Samantha graduated from the University of Munich in 2001 with her master’s degree in mechanical engineering and specialized in aerospace propulsion. In 2000, the Italian government finally allowed women to apply and enter into the military. While finishing her degree, Samantha applied to the Italian air force academy. Since graduating from the academy in 2005, she has logged over 500 hours flying military aircraft, and is now a captain in the Italian Air Force. In 2009, Samantha was selected to be one of the six people to join the European Space Agency (ESA) as an astronaut.
On November 23, 2014, Samantha’s childhood dream and her passion in life were realized: she was launched into space aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. She is now living on the International Space Station (ISS) with her fellow crewmates Terry Virts and Anton Shkaplerov as part of the Station’s Expedition 42/43. As part of her mission, Samantha will be conducting experiments in physical science, biology, human physiology, radiation research, and technology. After almost six months at ISS, she will return to Earth on May 12, 2015. When asked about her ground breaking mission she stated: “I really hope to be a role model for anybody who is interested in this field…I am in the position of serving as a role model for young girls and young women in Europe who may be thinking of pursuing a career like this, which is simply a career in science or technology or in military flying which are parts of my background. I think that is important.”