Rookie astronaut Luca Parmitano gets his chance

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
The choice of Capt Parmitano had been an open secret for some months

Italian Luca Parmitano will be the first of the European Space Agency's new astronauts to go into orbit.

He has been selected to live on the International Space Station in 2013 for a period of six months.

Capt Parmitano was a pilot with the Italian Air Force when he was recruited into the Esa Astronaut Corps in 2009 with five other European individuals.

He gets his chance because of a bi-lateral agreement between the Italian and US space agencies (Asi and Nasa).

The Americans promised to take a number of Italians into space if the European country built storage containers for the shuttle.

The choice of 34-year-old Capt Parmitano has been an open secret for some months now.

It was announced officially on Friday when the International Space Station partners released the identities of all the crews picked to fly aboard the orbiting platform in 2013.

Luca Parmitano will be part of the Expedition 36 and 37 Crews. He will launch on a Soyuz rocket in the May of 2013 and return to Earth in the November.

In addition to the opportunities available under the US-Italian bi-lateral agreement, Europe has the right to claim a long-duration ISS residency of six months roughly every two years. Another Italian, Paolo Nespoli, is currently taking up one of those positions.

With the US shuttle about to be retired, the opportunities for all nations' astronauts to go to the ISS will be greatly reduced.

The orbiter has seven seats; Soyuz capsules, which will take over all astronaut transportation shortly, only have room for three people at a time.

This means some of Esa's recent intake of new astronauts - which includes the first Briton in the corps, Major Tim Peake - may have to wait many years to get into orbit.

As well as Tim Peake, Luca Parmitano's class included: Italian Samantha Cristoforetti, Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, Germany's Alexander Gerst, and Denmark's Andreas Mogensen.

They were the first such intake at the European Space Agency's Astronaut Corps since 1992.

Image caption,
Some of the new intake may have to wait several years to follow Luca Parmitano into orbit

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