Posted June 12, 2015

Europe's latest space celebrity returns home

A posting on longread blogging network Medium wonders if she's 'the most awesome astronaut ever.'  While that may me slightly over the top, Samantha Cristoforetti has certainly made some waves on YouTube and Twitter, doing science, mooring unmanned cargo vessels to the Space Station ISS, explaining everyday life in space, reading literature in many languages and so on. On Thursday June 11 she returned home after more than half a year in space.

Fifty years ago all astronauts were celebrities worldwide. Then, when spaceflight became routine, for a while almost none were, except in their native countries. Now we have entered the era of social media, and it turns out some astronauts have a talent to produce the right combination of information and entertainment on the internet and have fun doing it. Those astronauts become stars in their own right.

Examples include NASA's Don Pettit, who did lots of fun physics experiments and made stunning photographs and videos. And Canadian Chris Hadfield, who demonstrated countless everyday things like brushing teeth and mopping up spills in space. He managed to make music videos, for example singing 'Space oddity'  while playing his guitar, and on one occasion even singing and playing together with a rock band down on Earth.

Missing flash plugin. Please download the latest Adobe Flash Player:
Get Adobe Flash Player

(I'm linking to most videos and embedding just a few here, or this post would become way too long and unreadable.)

And now there's Samantha Cristoforetti. She's from Italy and you can read up on her at the ESA site and on her Wikipedia page. To be sure, she did lots of serious hard work up there.

She operated the robot arm to dock supply craft to the station and released them back into space. She did all kinds of scienctific work, of which the ESA recently made this compilation. She lectured on scientific topics, such as gravity and collision physics.

But the fact is, the lighter stuff attracted more attention, and why not. From the bigger audience, some people will always move on to heavier stuff so you win in both departments. There are some videos where she demonstrates space food (Chris Hadfield did that too). And here she is showing a whole range of space bathroom items and how to use them, followed by a tour of her bedroom.

Missing flash plugin. Please download the latest Adobe Flash Player:
Get Adobe Flash Player

Missing flash plugin. Please download the latest Adobe Flash Player:
Get Adobe Flash Player

One thing that makes these videos successful is probably the smile that never leaves her face. Samantha always radiates that she absolutely loves her job and loves telling everybody about it. Same thing goes for the videos in which she reads literature. I believe she started doing that when her stay in the station got extended due to the loss of a Russian supply ship on April 29. Anyway, here are two lovely videos with very simple but effective dramatic tricks. In the first, she reads a couple paragraphs from Douglas Adam’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, filmed upside down. No  need to do that in space, but it works. In the second she recites 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' all by heart, and sends a scale model of Earth spinning in the air. Great stuff.

Missing flash plugin. Please download the latest Adobe Flash Player:
Get Adobe Flash Player

Missing flash plugin. Please download the latest Adobe Flash Player:
Get Adobe Flash Player

She even did a Russian poem, by the way. So the other day a new crew arrived on a delayed flight, and after a short ceremony her team got sent home. No doubt she hopes to go back up again soon. Half a million twitter followers hope so too.


About Herbert Blankesteijn

Herbert Blankesteijn is a technology journalist from the Netherlands who has written for many prominent Dutch newspapers. He presented and directed television and radio programmes and has 10 books to his name. Herbert is interested in nascent fields such as 3D printing, drones, robotics and the private space business.