PARIS: Italy’s Samantha Cristoforetti on Wednesday became the first European woman to take over command of the International Space Station during a ceremony broadcast live from space.
The outgoing commander, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, used the occasion to seemingly make a rare space-bound reference to the war in Ukraine, saying that “despite the storms on Earth, our international cooperation continues”.
During a relaxed ceremony, Artemyev handed Cristoforetti a golden key, symbolising that she is the new commander of the space station until she returns to Earth on October 10.
Cristoforetti, a 45-year-old European Space Agency astronaut and former Italian air force pilot, arrived for her second tour on the ISS in April. She holds the record for the longest stay in space by a woman after spending 199 days in orbit in 2014 and 2015.
She is fifth woman — and the first non-US woman — to become commander since the role was created in 2000.
The space station, long a symbol of closer post-Cold War ties between Russia and the United States, has been in a difficult position since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February.
Moscow responded with outrage at unprecedented sanctions over the war and the ISS has been one of the last remaining areas of cooperation between Russia and the West.
Artemyev praised the work of all 10 people onboard the space station — four Americans, five Russians and Cristoforetti.
He said he viewed the ISS as “a continuation of the Apollo-Soyuz programme,” the first crewed international space mission carried out jointly by the United States and Soviet Union in 1975 in the midst of the Cold War.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2022