ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti is returning to Earth alongside NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins, marking the end of her second mission to the International Space Station, Minerva. Watch Crew-4’s return live on ESAwebTV Channel 2. UPDATE: departure on 13 October has been waved off due to unfavourable weather at the splashdown area. We are awaiting news from NASA and SpaceX on the next target for Crew 4 departure from the Space Station – see for the latest updates.   

Samantha and Matthias with a SpaceX spacesuit in orbit
Samantha and Matthias with a SpaceX spacesuit in orbit

Samantha’s Minerva mission began on 27 April 2022, when she was launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre, USA, in the Crew Dragon spacecraft Freedom.

Upon arrival at the Space Station, Samantha was greeted by fellow ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. Not only was the pair’s presence in orbit a rare moment for Europe in space, it was also a clear sign of Europe’s growing footprint in orbit. With a smooth handover ensured, Samantha began her role as an astronaut on the International Space Station, working on unique, out-of-this-world science.

Space for everyone

Samantha Cristoforetti performs the Acoustic Diagnostics experiment
Samantha Cristoforetti performs the Acoustic Diagnostics experiment

As part of her Minerva mission, Samantha supported numerous European experiments and many more international experiments in microgravity. These experiments covered a wide range of disciplines.

Many will provide new insights for healthcare, such as the Acoustic Diagnostics experiment, which investigates the effect of noise exposure on human hearing. Similarly, the European Myotones experiment will provide important data on the maintenance of muscle tone, which could be of great use to those designing physical therapy approaches for people around the world.

Samantha’s weightless investigations didn’t just provide biological insights, however. Much of her research focused on materials of the future. The Particle Stabilised Emulsions and Foams (PASTA) experiment, for example, focused on the physics of emulsions, which will go on to provide improvements in how we produce food.

The properties of alloy metals and antimicrobial surfaces were also probed, both of which will provide new and improved building materials, both for future spacecrafts and for construction here on Earth.

Doing it first

Samantha Cristoforetti's first EVA
Samantha Cristoforetti’s first EVA

While this mission was not her first to the International Space Station, it was packed full of groundbreaking moments.

On 21 July, Samantha completed her first spacewalk, outfitting the European Robotic Arm alongside Oleg Artemyev. This European project is capable of ‘walking’ between locations on the Station, offering grappling, transport, and installation assistance for payloads. Beyond this activity being a personal milestone, this extravehicular activity also made her the first European woman to spacewalk.

Samantha assumed the role of commander on 28 September, making her the fifth European, and first European woman, to hold the leadership position of the International Space Station. As commander, Samantha was responsible for the performance and well-being of her colleagues in space, maintaining effective communication with the teams on Earth, and coordinating crew response in case of emergencies. At the end of her mission, she assured a smooth transition between Expedition 67 and Expedition 68.

Reaching out to the world

Expedition 67 poses at dinner
Expedition 67 poses at dinner

Another important aspect of Samantha’s mission was reaching beyond the lab. From her home on the Station, Samantha nurtured an extensive online audience, becoming the first astronaut to take their science communication to TikTok. Her account became a treasure-trove of glimpses into what life is like aboard the Space Station, engaging her followers’ curiosity in how it worked and what she got up to day-to-day. She recorded personal answers to curious followers throughout her mission, reaching millions of TikTok users worldwide in the process.

A firm proponent of women’s health, Samantha participated in osteoporosis outreach, educating women about the importance of lifting heavy and eating well to ensure strong bones into their later years. At the other end of the spectrum, she virtually dropped in to Germany’s own Gamescom, an annual video game conference streamed live to hundreds of thousands online, to inspire technologically-minded viewers to invest their skills in science. Minerva Mission highlights
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To see more about Samantha’s second mission, as well as future missions, but sure to follow her on Twitter and TikTok.

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