Diary of an apprentice astronaut


Samantha salutes Leonard Nimoy aboard the ISS. Credit: NASA

Samantha Cristoforetti‘s voyage as an apprentice astronaut took her from Houston to Japan to the legendary Star City in Russia.

In this talk, she discussed the two hundred days she spent on the International Space Station. She revealed the joys and challenges of being in an extraordinary place, from the sublime sight of seeing Earth for the first time to more unusual concerns, such as mastering the art of floating. How do you find your bearings when there is no up and down? What is it like to run in weightlessness? And how do you cook in space?

Samantha Cristoforetti is an Italian European Space Agency astronaut, engineer and former Air Force pilot. She spent 200 days on the International Space Station as part of Expedition 42/43. She enjoys hiking, scuba diving, yoga, reading and travelling. Other interests include technology, nutrition and the Chinese language.





This talk was based round questions and answers and I hope Ms Cristoferetti forgives me if I haven’t noted everything down correctly

Captain Cristoferetti shared her voyage to the International Space Station, and what work she carried out in her 200 days abroad.





A foreward view of the International Space Station backdropped by the limb of the Earth. In view are the station’s four large, maroon-coloured solar array wings, two on either side of the station, mounted to a central truss structure. Further along the truss are six large, white radiators, three next to each pair of arrays. In between the solar arrays and radiators is a cluster of pressurised modules arranged in an elongated T shape, also attached to the truss. A set of blue solar arrays are mounted to the module at the aft end of the cluster.

NASA/Crew of STS-132 – http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-132/hires/s132e012208.jpg (http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/shuttle/sts-132/html/s132e012208.html)

The International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-132 crew member on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. Undocking of the two-spacecraft occurred at 10:22 CDT on 23 May 2010, ending a seven-day stay that saw the addition of a new station module, Rassvet, replacement of batteries and resupply of the orbiting outpost.

The International Space Station (ISS) is a modular space station (habitable artificial satellite) in low Earth orbit. It is a multinational collaborative project between five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). The ownership and use of the space station is established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements. The ISS program evolved from the Space Station Freedom, an American proposal in the 1980s to construct a permanently crewed Earth-orbiting station.


About 100 billion people have ever lived on the Earth but only 500 people have gone into space.

1) Captain Cristoferetti lived in Trentino until she was ten years of age. She liked to ski in the winter and roam about unsupervised in the summer.

2) She went to boarding school during her high school years where she was interested in everything although there wasn’t much choice of subject.

She realised that science/maths/engineering was her forte but she did a lot of sport including karate.

3) She still trains to keep up her fitness in case another trip into space happens.

4) She joined the Italian air force

5) Throughout her career she has lived in many countries, learning their countries.

6) From her home in Trentino she moved to Munich, Germany, to study for her degree then moved to France and then Russia for further studies.

7) She did travel a lot as a child and this is when she started to learn different languages, such as German.

When she was 17, she moved to the US to take part in the AFS exchange program and attend Space Camp.


AFS Intercultural Programs (or AFS, originally the American Field Service) is an international youth exchange organization.


Space Camp is an educational camp in Huntsville, Alabama, on the grounds of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center museum at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. It provides residential and educational programs for children and adults on themes such as space exploration, aviation and robotics. The camp is run by a state government agency, the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission. More than 900,000 campers have graduated since 1982, including several who became astronauts.

8) In 2009 she moved to Cologne to train to be an astronaut. One of her training colleagues was Major Tim Peake.



European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Timothy Peake prepares to install a space acceleration measurement system sensor inside the European Columbus module aboard the International Space Station. The device is used in an ongoing study of the small forces (vibrations and accelerations) on the International Space Station resulting from the operation of hardware, crew activities, dockings and manoeuvring. Results generalize the types of vibrations affecting vibration-sensitive experiments.

Major Timothy Nigel Peake CMG (born 7 April 1972) is a British Army Air Corps officer, European Space Agency astronaut and a former International Space Station (ISS) crew member.

9) When training for the ISS a astronaut needs to live lots of different lives, in lots of different countries.

10) Captain Cristoferetti was active in the Italian air force for 8 years but has only just officially retired.

11) Any worried about mixing the military with space?

No as the technology development is being used to moving outwards to Mars and benefitting the human race.

Benefits include deploying satellites for monitoring climate change.

There is some talk of military use.

12) There will always being a conflict between being in the military and being a human being.

Captain Cristoferetti regards her role as being a service to her country.

13) Her astronaut selection began in 2008. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. She was in the right place at the right time. Also, the right age at 31 with the experience of science and pilot experience behind her.

The initial application took a year and there were 8500 valid applications.

The first stage involved screening her CV. She had to fill in a detailed questionnaire where she had to give information about her flying skills, sports she played and her mechanics skills.

By the second stage the number of applicants had been reduced to 1000. Her cogitative abilities, short term memory, maths skills and hand-eye coordination were some of the things that were tested

By the third stage the number of applicants had been reduced to 200. They were put into small groups of about 6. The groups were tested and observed. How did they get along? How good was their communication? There were psychological assessments. Important if the astronauts are to spend 6 months together on the ISS.

By the fourth stage there were just 45 people left and a whole week of medical screening took place.

By the fifth stage there were just 22 people, who then had to go through two rounds of interviews with a 10-person panel.

The director general met the last 10.

At the end of the process there were about 6/7 people left.

Waiting around was the worst part of the process. Sometimes 2 or 3 months and Captain Cristoferetti was still doing her pilot training.

For Captain Cristoferetti the process started in May 2008 and by May 2009 she read on the internet there was going to be an announcement about the successful applicants. In fact, she found out she was successful just before the actual press conference. She missed a phone call whilst in the shower but got the good news by email.

14) 15 months of basic training then she had to wait for her assignment.

She was placed in the 3rd group assignment.

The preparation was like doing a marathon. It was demanding and she had zero control of her life. She had to do everything she was told to do.

15) At the start of the process there was theoretical instruction in the classroom – how the ISS including the computers run. How to work with the Soyuz spacecraft.


Soyuz is a series of spacecraft designed for the Soviet space program by the Korolev Design Bureau (now RKK Energia) in the 1960s that remains in service today, having made more than 140 flights. The Soyuz spacecraft is launched on a Soyuz rocket, the most reliable launch vehicle in the world to date. The Soyuz rocket design is based on the Vostok launcher, which in turn was based on the 8K74 or R-7A Semyorka, a Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile. All Soyuz spacecraft are launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. After the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the Soyuz served as the only means for Americans to make crewed space flights until the first flight of VSS Unity in 2018, and the only means for Americans to reach the International Space Station until the first flight of Dragon 2 Crew variant on May 30, 2020. The Soyuz is heavily used in the ISS program.



The Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft is seen on the launch pad just prior to launch on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Launch of the Soyuz rocket is scheduled for the early hours of Nov. 24 and will carry Expedition 42 Soyuz Commander Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Terry Virts of NASA , and Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency into orbit to begin their five and a half month mission on the International Space Station.


The Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft undocked from the Rassvet module on the International Space Station on June 11, 2015. NASA astronaut Terry Virts, (ESA) European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov are on their way back to Earth. They will land in Kazakhstan a few hours later after more than 6 months in space.

As well as classroom instruction there were simulations to be completed on controlling the Soyuz and/or the ISS.

The simulations included the whole journey and docking with the ISS.

These were done dozens of times.

Problems were simulated to allow the astronauts to work out solutions.

Captain Cristoferetti was the flight engineer on Soyuz. She needed to have a deep understanding of the system and be able to identify problems and solutions


The flight engineer:

maintains radio and video communication systems in normal and contingency situations;

maintains ground communications;

assures proper functioning of personal life support system.

She was also responsible for assisting the mission commander by checking that the engine burns are done properly, to get the Soyuz into the right orbit and intervene manually if necessary.

The launch took place on the 23rd November 2014






16) g forces?

The launch started very smoothly at first. Small acceleration as the mass of the rocket is large due to the quantity of fuel on board. 300 tonnes rising to 500 tonnes thrust.

The fuel was used up at a high rate. The thrust remained the same but as the mass of the rocket is decreasing the acceleration increased as explained by Newton’s second law.

The law states, “Force is equal to the change in momentum per change in time (F = d(mv)/dt). For a constant force, mass is inversely proportional to acceleration.” The actual formula is written in mathematical form as F = ma.

F is force, m is mass and a is acceleration. The maths behind this is quite simple. If you halve the mass, you double the acceleration (m is proportional to 1/a).

The astronauts (cosmonauts if you are Russian) experienced this increasing acceleration by increased g-force pressing them back into their seats.

They reached 4g in a matter of minutes. Their perceived weight was four times their actual weight on Earth,

They felt lots of jolts.

2 minutes later the 4 boosters on the side of the spacecraft stop burning and separate off and the thrust is then used to get the telemetry correct. During all of this the team is getting reports from mission control. The second stage lasted for a few minutes.

The time spent at 4g was only about 9 minutes. During this time the required horizontal speed was reached to give the correct altitude and orbital velocity. Orbital injection occurred at 200km to prevent the Soyuz falling back to Earth.

It took 6 hours for the Soyuz to dock during which it orbited the Earth four times.

Cargo ships to the ISS can do the journey much faster.

In 2.5 years of training Captain Cristoferetti spent a year on Soyuz including the process of re-entry.

Soyuz is relatively safe. An automatic system would have got the astronauts back to Earth if something had gone wrong.

17) The daily routine onboard the ISS is structured around 24 hours despite it making about 16 orbits of the Earth during this time. GMT is the time used as it is good for Houston and Moscow. It is also good for the main ESA control room in Munich.



Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is the mean solar time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, reckoned from midnight. At different times in the past, it has been calculated in different ways, including being calculated from noon; as a consequence, it cannot be used to specify a precise time unless a context is given. English speakers often use GMT as a synonym for Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).


A typical day on the ISS starts around 7:30 with planning and meetings with Earth. Houston will give information and issue tasks etc. Then there are communications with other control centres. Talks with Munich in Germany, then Japan then Munich and then other appointed centres.

Activities could be as mundane as the storing of supplies or a space walk that could last all day.

There are routine tasks and challenges.


18) What about relaxation?

Some astronauts watched movies, call family and socialising.

Captain Cristoferetti rang 911 by accident.

Usually the astronauts have a group meal at the weekend and listen to music.

19) Did her time on the ISS help with shielding during the pandemic?

Not really as the psychology was different. She had wanted to be in space and she knew when the isolation would start and when it would end.

20) Espresso machine project.

An Earth-bound machine needs high pressure and temperature to work. ISS engineers didn’t like this so the machine had to be re-engineered.

Usual coffee is instant powder.

The astronauts on board the International Space Station get hungry from time to time during their long day of work in microgravity. Captain Cristoforetti was asked about the kind of healthy snack she likes to eat during her breaks.


21) What can you see out of ISS windows?

Mainly Earth gazing as the windows don’t face out into space.


The Cupola’s windows with shutters open.

NASA. – http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/station/crew-22/html/s130e009694.html

This image is among the initial series taken through a first of its kind “bay window” on the International Space Station, the seven-windowed Cupola. The image shows small clouds over a light blue background. The image was recorded with a digital still camera using a 19mm lens setting. The Cupola, which a week and half ago was brought up to the orbital outpost by the STS-130 crew on the space shuttle Endeavour, will house controls for the station robotics and will be a location where crew members can operate the robotic arms and monitor other exterior activities.


Gregory Chamitoff peers out of a window

NASA – http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/gallery/images/station/crew-18/html/iss018e006428.html http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap081230.html

Peering out of the window of the International Space Station (ISS), astronaut Greg Chamitoff takes in the planet on which we were all born. About 350 kilometers up, the ISS is high enough so that the Earth’s horizon appears clearly curved. Astronaut Chamitoff’s window shows some of Earth’s complex clouds, in white, and life-giving atmosphere and oceans, in blue.

You can see clouds, weather patterns and light pollution.


Europe From ISS at Night

Sunrises and sunsets are seen from the ISS

Earth From Space Seen From The ISS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBPjVzSoepo&app=desktop

Sunset, Night-time and Sunrise from the International Space Station https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jq8-UjhHh4

Auroras can sometimes reach 51o latitude and be visible on the ISS

ESA releases film of Aurora Borealis shot from ISS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0G_00pjzqo

The ISS can be visible flying over London but not Scotland


Captain Cristoferetti didn’t see many clouds when she was there. What she did she likened to lace. She liked looking at the Caribbean and of course, Italy. She liked looking at the contrast between the lights in Italy and the dark Mediterranean, the snake-like river Nile and found the Moon glint beautiful


Ocean Moon Glint and City Night Lights in 4K UHD

This time-lapse imagery taken by NASA astronaut Jack Fischer from the International Space Station in 4K Ultra High Definition takes us over the Pacific Ocean’s moon glint and above the night lights of San Francisco, Calif. through Denver, Colo.


Moon glint: Sunlight reflected off the Moon then reflects off the surface of a large body of water or ice at particular angles,

22) What does space smell like?

Not much of a smell in the ISS due to neutral filters. The vacuum of space doesn’t have a smell.

Near the vehicle docking hatch there isn’t a nice smell due to outgassing particles. Burnt/rotten smell.

After a space walk the suit does have a bit of a smell,

23) Is menstruation a problem.

No as female astronauts can either take medication to suppress it or use the items they would normally use on Earth.

Not really a problem on the ISS as only 16% of astronauts are women. However, in 2013, for the first time, 50 % of NASA astronauts recruited and now in training, who will also be candidates for the first trip to Mars, are female.

The biology of women makes no difference.

24) Physical exercise on the ISS is very important and is carried out 6 days a week to maintain condition. It is very important as in zero gravity muscle and bones waste away. There are versions of Earth equipment such as bikes and treadmills along with weights/

Just two of the many videos showing exercise on ISS



25) Is it difficult going to sleep?

Some astronauts use elastic cords/sleeping bag to produce a pressure to keep them in position like on a bed. Captain Cristoferetti didn’t like this so she just sort of floated about in her pod.


She doesn’t recollect dreaming on the ISS but she does dream that that she is still there now.

The Dreams of an Astronaut – with Helen Sharman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A49oreXOOzI



Helen Patricia Sharman, CMG, OBE, HonFRSC (born 30 May 1963) is a chemist who became the first British astronaut (and in particular, the first British cosmonaut) as well as the first woman to visit the Mir space station in May 1991.

26) Are vegans catered for on the ISS?

Captain Cristoferetti didn’t know.

27) Physical impact of landing.

Captain Cristoferetti knew what to expect.

Elevated heart rate for a few days. Balance and blood flow had to be “re-trained”. She was very tired and sometimes slept for twelve hours.

28) Captain Cristoferetti is still an ESA astronaut and wants to go to the ISS again.

29) The ISS is as big as a football field and has been in use for 20 years.


The Lunar Gateway is a planned space station in lunar orbit intended to serve as a solar-powered communication hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots. It is expected to play a major role in NASA’s Artemis program, after 2024. While the project is led by NASA, the Gateway is meant to be developed, serviced, and utilized in collaboration with commercial and international partners: Canada (CSA), Europe (ESA), and Japan (JAXA). It will serve as the staging point for both robotic and crewed exploration of the lunar south pole, and is the proposed staging point for NASA’s Deep Space Transport concept for transport to Mars. Formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway (DSG), the station was renamed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) in NASA’s 2018 proposal for the 2019 United States federal budget. When the budgeting process was complete, US$332 million had been committed by Congress to preliminary studies.

The science disciplines to be studied on the Gateway are expected to include planetary science, astrophysics, Earth observations, heliophysics, fundamental space biology, and human health and performance. Gateway development includes all of the International Space Station partners: ESA, NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, and CSA. Construction is planned to take place in the 2020s. The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG), which is composed of more than 14 space agencies including all major ones, has concluded that Gateway will be critical in expanding a human presence to the Moon, Mars, and deeper into the Solar System.

A crew will only go to this new space-station every so often and carry out experiments that can’t be done on the ISS.

30) Would you go to Mars?

Captain Cristoferetti would, provided she could come back although she felt that it would be unlikely, she would be asked considering her age.

Economics will dictate if going to Mars actually happens by anyone.

31) Is it worth going back to the Moon?

Yes, as technology for a Mars venture would be easier from there.

32) Will a baby ever be born in space?

Not on the ISS as it isn’t safe. Experiment on animals have shown that gravity is necessary for foetal development. Also, radiation might be a problem.

For long term space exploration artificial gravity would be needed for pregnant women.

33) Tips for budding astronauts.

Read the blogs of astronauts.

If you choose not to go down the military route you need to prove you can “rough it”.

You must be able to follow protocols.



‘Today I woke up on Earth. And I will fall asleep in space’

In space the sun rises and sets 16 times a day. You fly over every sea, every mountain and desert, every city and every port. The most ordinary things — eating, sleeping, brushing your teeth or cutting your hair — have to be relearned, until they become familiar again. This is the story of Samantha Cristoforetti’s incredible journey to becoming an astronaut, and her journey beyond Earth.

Her voyage as an apprentice astronaut began when she was in her early thirties: five years of intense training around the world, from Houston to Japan to the legendary Star City in Russia. Countless hours spent in centrifuges, spaceship simulators and under water for spacewalk practice. Then, one day, a rocket was waiting for her on the launch pad. And after eight minutes of wild ascent, she was on orbit, crunched up with her two crewmates in a tiny spaceship that took them to the International Space Station.

With honesty and warmth, Cristoforetti chronicles the two hundred days she spent on the ISS, the joys and challenges of being in an extraordinary place, from the sublime sight of seeing Earth for the first time to more unusual concerns, such as mastering the art of floating. How do you find your bearings when there is no up and down? What is it like to run in weightlessness? And how do you cook in space?

This is an enthralling, inspiring and surprisingly down-to-earth story about what it really takes to pursue your dreams.

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