Meet Europe's first female commander of the ISS

STORY: This is Samantha Cristoforetti – the first European female commander of the International Space Station.

The Italian astronaut recently took part in a Q&A session with young girls,

accompanied by a lookalike Barbie doll.

“Why did you want to become an astronaut?”

“Growing up I was fascinated by the night sky, and the idea of flying to space, and the sense of adventure and exploration. And being an astronaut kind of brings all those passions and interests of me together.”

Born in Milan in 1977, Cristoforetti studied mechanical engineering and then joined the Italian Air Force as a pilot.

In 2009, she was selected by the European Space Agency to become Italy’s first female astronaut.

As ISS commander, her tasks is to maintain communication with the teams on Earth and to coordinate the crew’s response in the event of an emergency.

She is also be responsible for the performance and wellbeing of the astronauts in orbit.

“Who will look after you in space when you get sick?”

“Well I hope I do not get sick. See – up here you cannot catch a cold, because there’s nobody who can pass onto you the cold virus. But then of course something might happen to you, you might get hurt, for example, and in that case what we do is call our flight surgeons on the ground, we talk to them about what’s going on, and they will give us guidance."

Cristoforetti's video conversation is part of a project aimed at inspiring young girls to start careers in STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The initiative was organized by Inspiring Girls International, a charity which connects girls to international role models.

"Can you eat pizza on board?"

"Unfortunately, a proper pizza needs to be prepared in a proper oven and we don't have that on board. We have only an electric oven to heat up food bags. Some time ago though, we found a way to eat something similar to pizza which wasn't bad at all."

Cristoforetti also has her own Barbie.

In 2019, Mattel designed a Cristoforetti lookalike doll and put it on sale in 2021.

The company donated some of the profits to the charity Women in Aerospace Europe.