Thinking of exploration, and varieties of fields it comprises, gives the impression of time tangibly running in parallel, if compared to the time span required to reach noteworthy goals. Something that sparks constant interest, for the limitless possibilities envisioned. Space exploration stands out as paving ways into uncharted worlds, while on earth it opens horizons to generations born in notable phases of human history, when people’s daily lives unfold unlike any generations have previously experienced.
Fragments of centuries painted and sculpted on stones by ancient civilizations, notebooks filled with pencil charcoal and ink by past exploring minds, perfected by modern-day daring visionaries who can design the unimaginable future. Common people, somewhere on the globe, big cities or unknown small villages like busy dwarves willing and driven by never ending passion produce data, generate results and help move communities forward to reach new levels of knowledge, expertise and eventually lead to major breakthroughs. An image of humanity’s best efforts to achieve great goals: such circumstances are added values in nourishing the innate curiosity for space, discoveries, adventure, evolved into scientific research, tech and human exploration.
Reflections on how it all began leads to reminiscences of Europe’s historic epochs of exploration, cultural, scientific and engineering breakthroughs; influential figures come to mind: Marco Polo, Galileo, Newton, Dorotea Bucca (she held a chair of medicine and philosophy at a University for over forty years in 1390), Columbus, Gutenberg, Leonardo Da Vinci, Elena Cornaro Piscopia (the first documented woman in the world to obtain a PhD from a University in 1678), Rasmussen, Lise Meitner (physicist who worked on radioactivity, nuclear physics and nuclear fission) Georges Lemaître (priest, astronomer and professor of physics, he proposed the theory of the expansion of the universe, incorrectly attributed to Edwin Hubble), Alessandro Volta, Beethoven, Artemisia Gentileschi (the first woman to become a member of an Art Academy), Huygens, Freud, Madame Curie, Johannes Van Houten, Nobile, Mozart, Einstein.. and so on.
In this rich Olympus of humanity’s high achievements our modern heroes share the same curiosity, are driven by the same sense of belonging to a world which is part of a bigger picture awaiting to be unveiled. My modern-day outstanding archetype of explorers are many, and astronauts represent the last frontier of exploration, diamonds’ table of cultural achievements including scientific, engineering, technological, design, innovation.
One summer evening, all of us children were invited, or best summoned, by all parents around a black and white round television screen. Surrounded by adults’ euphoria, and fair dose of anxiety in the air, we saw the first human, Neil Armstrong, imprinting the dusty Moon’s surface, followed by Buzz Aldrin. While giant leaps were choreographed in small steps, the big quest was figuring out how modern Icarus could fly into the moonlight without melting their wings, and descend on it softly, still in one piece.
When their boots turned dark grey we figured “you see, their snow boots fried on its hot surface like our foods just did in the hot burning oven!” Grandparents, moms, dads would then comfort those thoughts: “you see… the Moon, la Luna, Selene is very kind… she regulates our natural cycles, she pulses our tempo as well as the cycles and tempo of the nature we live in. She has been gazing at all of us for centuries, awaiting for humans to grow their wings so we can finally fly and come together. Together with the sun and all shiny stars, she gives us light to carry within, like fireflies do, the courage of eagles, the colors and grace of butterflies, the persistence and strength of migratory birds: rain or shine, the journeys of discoveries, with confidence shall continue.”
Since that day, more astronauts boldly traveled to space. We were told that before humans, the dog Laika had been sent to space : it resembles ‘ta laika’ (in Greek: ‘popular, of the people’), ‘malaika’ (in Swahili: ‘angel, cosmic being’) ‘laikā’ (in Latvian: ‘at a time, on time’). Then the historic turn when Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961 became the first human ever to leave earth’s biosphere for an orbiting journey around the planet. Also the first female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, had already flown to space on June 16, 1963 like her fellow citizen, with a longer stay in orbit.
Since then more astronauts have boldly gone where Gagarin and Tereshkova went first, before we were born. Fortunately they all are well remembered, and pioneers’ legacy will always have a special place thanks to tributes, venues. Present and future generations will honor them and their humility, dedication, courage, resilience, determination: a sign of friendship of one for everyone.
Every year on April 12 all around the world, the 1st human who traveled to space is given tribute with Yuri’s Night. Massive dedicated parties, venues, special events to celebrate the first flight in orbit around the earth. In 2015 Yuri’s Night received Esa astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti’s tribute while on board the International Space Station, and her visit as a special guest to a stellar venue upon her return from her 200-day world record mission in space for a female astronaut. The record was previously set by Nasa astronaut Sunita Williams with 195-day-mission. In 2017 it passes on to Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson currently on board the ISS. With her 200-day-mission Cristoforetti remains the Esa astronaut with more time spent in space during a single, uninterrupted mission. Being among the few European female astronauts flown to space, her contributions to scientific research are valuable assets for studies on human physiology both in respect to future long duration journeys to space, as well as to earth’s curative and preventive health care.
As exploration focuses on human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, thus a distance greater than the 400km/248mi orbiting International Space Station, Cristoforetti is currently in charge of European Space Agency’s (ESA) ‘Spaceship EAC program‘, a project that evaluates and simulates the conditions for robotic and human flights in cislunar space, in preparation for moon landings and settlements. While Cristoforetti is also part of a working group that focuses on co-operating with the Chinese Space Agency (CNSA), her outreach work and accomplishments open opportunities for development, inclusion, advancement in Europe and beyond. An astronaut with many talents, Cristoforetti’s appearences are informative and engaging, with keen eye for nuances she fosters wonder and desire to explore, communicates the ways to the stars being articulated and gratifying; with distinctive style she makes her life in space everyone’s experience.
Thanks to communications platforms and systems, scientific and technological advancements, information available having reached unprecedent standards, societies can envision near future and future scenarios previously only imagined, part of sci-fiction stories. Even new tools to preserve and take care of what is allowing life on earth, and make it thrive with improved conditions, interactions and visions.
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