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 Italy 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. 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, as 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, the first human, Neil Armstrong, imprinted the dusty Moon’s surface, followed by Buzz Aldrin. Steps built upon 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. The first female cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, flew to space on June 16, 1963 like her fellow citizen, with a longer stay in orbit. Every year on April 12 all around the world, the first human who traveled to space is given tribute with massive dedicated parties, venues, special events. In 2015 Yuri’s Night received Esa astronaut 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 multiple records space mission, among them for time spent in space in one single mission. Record previously set by Nasa astronaut Sunita Williams, in 2017 it passes on to Nasa astronaut Peggy Whitson. With her 200-day-mission, Nov 2014/June 2015, Cristoforetti remains Esa astronaut with more time spent in space during a single, uninterrupted mission.
As exploration focuses on human exploration beyond low Earth orbit, thus a distance greater than 400km/248mi orbiting International Space Station, Cristoforetti is currently in charge of European Space Agency’s Spaceship EAC program, a project that evaluates and simulates the conditions for robotic and human flights in cislunar space, in preparation for future moon landings and settlements. While Cristoforetti is also part of ESA’s working group that focuses on cooperating 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 appearances 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 unprecedented 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.