Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut for the European Space Agency, has been in orbit twice. Firstly, he was part of the Space Shuttle Discovery crew during NASA’s STS-120 mission to deliver the Harmony module to the International Space Station in 2007. Most recently, he returned to the ISS via the Soyuz TMA-20 for expedition 26/27, which launched in December 2010. Nespoli returned to Earth in May 2011.
Nespoli, 55, trained as an aerospace engineer but during his national service he enjoyed life in the Italian armed forces so much he stayed on for another seven years. He served in the Italian Special forces, even taking part in exercises with the British Army’s SAS.
However, despite how tough and resourceful he is, on his most recent space mission Nespoli had to cope with being told his mother was seriously ill and would die while he was still in orbit. Nespoli is grateful for the communications and video patches NASA and ESA provided during this difficult time, which allowed him to say his farewells to his mother just before she died.
He is especially grateful for the kindness and respect he was shown – his commander arranged one minute of ...