The important day is coming soon, in less than two weeks, the Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano will fulfill his dream and fly to space along with his colleagues of Expedition 37 Fyodor Yurchikhin and Karen Nyberg, with whom he shared the last 18 months ground training in preparation for the mission that will take them to work for six months aboard the International Space Station. We have already talked about the training carried out with Luke at the European Astronaut Center (EAC) in Cologne in a previous post. We also report the blog where Luca posts his speeches both in Italian and in English: http://blogs.esa.int/luca-parmitano/?lang=it where you can keep updated on its future activities. Luca and his crew will depart from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on May 28 and will arrive at the Station after only a 6 hours flight where they will meet the colleagues of Expedition 36 Commander Pavel Vinogradov and the two Flight Engineers Alexander Misurkin and Chris Cassidy, who reached the station last March 28 and will remain onboard until the month of September.
Luca will spend these last fifteen days in Russia, first in Star City, a small town located at one hour drive from Moscow where the cosmonauts’ training center is located (the famous Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center – GCTC) and then to the launch base in Baikonur Kazakhstan. Now that the final exams have ended, Luca and his companions are qualified to fly successfully passing tests designed to assess their competences in in managing the Soyuz flight and working on board the Station, in nominal conditions and emergency situations.
Some days will be devoted to the family, to enjoy the presence of their loved ones because for six long months they can be heard only by teleconference from space, and store memories to take with him into orbit.
In his blog Luca also tells us about his passion for physical exercise in order to preserve his fitness but also to enjoy the last sunny days before moving into a sterile and artificial environment as the Space Station’s one.  In addition there are a lot of briefings with the ground control centers to coordinate and plan activities to be performed during the mission. On orbit Luca will have several interesting activities to be carried out, including two spacewalks that he will perform along with Chris Cassidy in the month of July. One of them is dedicated to replace an external video camera installed on the Japanese Kibo module and retrieve some external experiments.
During the second spacewalk he will perform preparatory activities for the arrival at the station of the new Russian module MLM (Multipurpose Laboratory Module).  Luca will become the first Italian astronaut to perform extravehicular activities, something that has never happened before. In addition, in June the next ATV module will arrive at the Station, the fourth in the series, called Albert Einstein.
Luca as a European astronaut will be responsible for monitoring the Rendez-vous and docking phase together with Alexander Misurkin and then for taking care of the activities relating to the hatch opening and installation of all the equipment needed for the six months stay on-board the module.
During the ATV mission Luca will also be responsible for the Cargo activities, in collaboration with the Control Center in Houston; he will download all incoming cargo and load everything planned for destruction during re-entry into orbit (basically garbage). He will also follow the delivery of oxygen and air from ATV tanks to the Station, as well as the transfer of drinking water and the loading of urine once the tanks have been emptied.
In short, a good amount of work that will occupy him for the duration of his mission in orbit, as ATV will remain attached to the station for about 5-6 months, from June to November/December 2013. At the moment the ATV undocking date is not yet fixed but, theoretically, if it will be brought forward to November Luca might be the only European astronaut to be responsible for the monitoring of both the docking and undocking of an ATV.
But of course it is still early for that. We will follow in particular the activities of Luca on ATV through our colleague Liliana Ravagnolo. Being an ATV instructor, she will have the responsibility to follow in the console the most salient phases of the mission.
Next appointment is scheduled for May 28 to attend Luca’s launch, wishing him all in our hearts…….. “GO, Luca, GO!”.