Life in space: Paolo Nespoli’s story at Festival del Blu
It may be surprising that the story of a great scientific and technological adventure can capture people’s imagination more than an adventure at the edges of reality.
It is not surprising, however, when it comes to space missions. Especially if the story is told by a special guest, the astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who returned in 2017 from his third “extraterrestrial” mission on the International Space Station (ISS).
This is what happened during the Festival del Blu event dedicated to space, recently held in Gaeta. The initiative was organized by the Municipality of Gaeta in collaboration with Regione Lazio, under the patronage, among the others, of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
The highlight of the event was the meeting of the veteran Italian astronaut with school children. In front of an audience of young boys and girls, AstroPaolo told, with great simplicity and through examples accurately documented by photos and videos, the extraordinary life on the ISS: the unique “home-laboratory that is outside the world but that revolves around it”.
In this place, where bodies are not subject to the effects of gravity that are found on Earth, there is no such thing as up or down, left or right. To move around, you have to get used to walking on your hands and using your feet to stay still. To avoid losing objects, astronauts attach them to their suits using a special adhesive fabric. And there is not much room either: the private space available to each astronaut is no larger than a telephone booth.
And this is not all. To mark the passage of time up there it is necessary to have a clock. If you were to rely on observing the sky, in fact, you would have breakfast 16 times a day, as many as the dawns and sunsets that you can see looking out in just one day spent in orbit around the Earth. And you have to face a significant loss of muscle mass, AstroPaolo points out. So much so that, without daily physical exercise on special sports equipment, the astronauts might not be able to walk once back on Earth.
So why go up there, facing so many small and big inconveniences, starting with the uncomfortable journey on board the Soyuz capsule where there is not even enough room to stretch your legs? Because “free” from gravity you can do research that it is impossible to conduct on Earth, Nespoli underlines.
For example, verifying if the plants’ growth process changes under conditions of altered gravity. And experimenting with special inventions, including a special armour against cosmic radiation – abundant in space – which might be useful for future missions to Mars, for example. Or testing a smart real-time saliva analysis device that can be used in remote places, including in the mountains, to remotely assess an individual’s psycho-physical health.
These and other experiments were carried out by Nespoli during the VITA mission of the Italian Space Agency. Because, as AstroPaolo underlines, astronauts bring and perform in space experiments designed by researchers on Earth, often becoming their “guinea pigs”.
So, apart from the inconveniences, the job of astronaut offers the opportunity to live unique sensations and experiences, like enjoying the sound of silence that it is possible to “hear” beyond the sound barrier, or going around the world in one and a half hours without having to get around obstacles or cross borders. Because the only border you can see from up there is our planet and the nothingness of space, says AstroPaolo.