Arrival of Samantha Cristoforetti at the :envihab. Credit: ESA/DLR
15. October 2022
We have an astronaut in the house! On 15 October 2022 Italian ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti landed in Cologne after spending six months on the International Space Station ISS. After splashing down off the coast of Florida and undergoing initial examinations, she arrived at Cologne-Bonn Airport at 18:00 CEST, from where she departed directly to the nearby German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und Raumfahrt; DLR) site following a brief round of greetings.
At the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine's :envihab aerospace medical research facility, she will continue experiments from her Minerva mission and undergo a rehabilitation programme, in which she will be cared for by a team from DLR and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Astronaut Centre (EAC).
"We are delighted that Samantha Cristoforetti is our second Direct Return this year, following Matthias Maurer. Samantha is also undergoing extensive medical tests, which are both routine examinations and part of research projects. In this way, we are helping to expand the spectrum of medical and psychological data on astronauts," says Jens Jordan, Head of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne.
Arrival of Samantha Cristoforetti in Cologne. Credit: ESA/DLR
European astronauts undergo all the necessary and experimental medical examinations at :envihab, but its role as a place to relax and retreat is also important. "We often get feedback from the astronauts that they are able to recover well from the stresses of their journey and the effects of microgravity with us. The quietness of the shielded rooms is usually perceived as particularly pleasant, because there is a constant background noise on the International Space Station coming from fans, air filters, pumps and other sources," explains Andrea Nitsche, Direct Return team member responsible for astronaut accommodation at :envihab.
The scientific experiments and medical examinations are primarily intended to improve our understanding of the physiological effects of space conditions, particularly microgravity, and to improve future medical care. Among other things, Samantha Cristoforetti's balance, fitness and physical performance will be examined, and tests that were also carried out prior to the flight will be repeated in order to compare the results. "One focus, for example, is sensorimotor measurements of the function of the vestibular system – the organ of balance. We determine fitness with muscle strength tests and bicycle ergometry in order to study the effectiveness of the training measures on the ISS and improve them in further studies," says Edwin Mulder, DLR Project Manager for the Direct Return scientific investigations. "For example, our SANS-CM bed rest study, the third campaign of which will begin at the end of January next year, is busy developing new measures to counter the degradation of astronauts’ physical health. These data will then be compared with those gathered from the astronaut examinations." The ageing of blood vessels, the effect of space conditions on the eye, heart and brain, and the effect of space radiation on human physiology also make up part of the scientific research being conducted as part of Samantha Cristoforetti's Direct Return.
European activities to care for European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts immediately after their return to Earth is a relatively new. In November 2014, Alexander Gerst was the first ESA astronaut to return directly to Cologne after his mission. Until then, all Western European astronauts had been examined at NASA in the USA, or in Russia. Astronaut medical data are collected according to consistent global standards to ensure comparability. The aim is to obtain better information about the effects of microgravity on the human body. This information is used to develop measures to counter the negative effects of microgravity. A highly specialised medical and scientific team will care for Samantha Cristoforetti around the clock for the two weeks following her arrival and conduct investigations on behalf of ESA, NASA and other space agencies. Samantha Cristoforetti's Direct Return is the ninth stay of a European astronaut at :envihab: Before her, Germany's Matthias Maurer (2022), France's Thomas Pesquet (2021 and 2017), Italy's Luca Parmitano (2020), Germany's Alexander Gerst (2018 and 2014), the United Kingdom's Timothy Peake (2016) and Denmark's Andreas Mogensen (2015) all readjusted to conditions on Earth here.