At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Umberto Guidoni - astronaut

First European to step on to the International Space Station


Guidoni flew two Space Shuttle missions during his time at NASA in Texas
Guidoni flew two Space Shuttle missions
during his time at NASA in Texas
The astronaut Umberto Guidoni, who spent almost 28 days in space on two NASA space shuttle missions, was born on this day in 1954 in Rome.

In April 2001, on the second of those missions, he became the first European astronaut to go on board the International Space Station (SSI).

After retiring as an active astronaut in 2004, Guidoni began a career in politics and was elected to the European Parliament as a member for Central Italy.

Although born in Rome, Guidoni’s family roots are in Acuto, a small hilltown about 80km (50 miles) southeast of the capital, in the area near Frosinone in Lazio known as Ciociaria.

Interested in science and space from a young age, Guidoni attended the Gaio Lucilio lyceum in the San Lorenzo district before graduating with honours in physics specializing in astrophysics at the Sapienza University of Rome in 1978, obtaining a scholarship from the National Committee for Nuclear Energy, based outside Rome in Frascati.

He worked in the Italian Space Agency as well as in the European Space Agency. One of his research projects was the Tethered Satellite System, which was part of the payload of the STS-46 space shuttle mission.

Guidoni moved to Houston, Texas and trained for a year as an alternate payload specialist for that mission, for which he was part of the group of scientists coordinating the scientific operations of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from the ground.

Guidoni displays the symbol of the Presidency of the Italian Republic during his 2001 mission
Guidoni displays the symbol of the Presidency of the Italian
Republic during his 2001 mission
He made his first spaceflight aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1996, which included the second flight of the TSS system (TSS-1R). Columbia launched on February 22, returning to the Kennedy Space Center on March 9, having completed 252 orbits, covering 10 million kilometers in 377 hours and 40 minutes .

His work in space focused on the control of the TSS’s electrodynamic experiments, which demonstrated, for the first time, the possibility of generating electrical power from space.

Guidoni’s second experience in space came on board the Space Shuttle Endeavour, on a Space Station assembly flight in 2001, a mission that included the inaugural flight of the Raffaello module, one of the three Italian pressurized logistics modules, which enabled four tons of supplies and scientific experiments to be transferred to the SSI.

Launched on April 19, it landed at the Edwards Air Force Base in California on May 1, having completed 186 orbits, covering approximately 8 million kilometers in 285 hours and 30 minutes.

Umberto Guidoni addresses supporters of the Sinistra e Libertà party during a rally in Rome
Umberto Guidoni addresses supporters of the Sinistra e
Libertà party during a rally in Rome
When Guidoni entered the SSI as the first European astronaut on board, he carried with him the Italian flag and the banner of the Presidency of the Italian Republic, delivered to him by the president, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Passionate about ecological issues, Guidoni entered politics immediately after he retired from active space travel, standing as an independent on the list of Italian Communists for the 2004 European elections and became an elected MEP.

He served until 2009 as a member of the parliamentary group comprising the European Left and the Nordic Green Left.

As an MEP, he served on various committees and working groups in the area of industry, research and energy, climate change, environmental health and food safety. He was a member of the budget control committee and was involved in working towards better relationships with the United States and Japan.

He lost his seat in 2009, standing as part of a list entitled Sinistra e Libertà - Left and Liberty. His involvement with politics continued for four years until 2013, when he had disagreements with the leadership group in his party and decided to quit.

Nowadays, married with one son, he works to popularise scientific subjects through writing an broadcasting.

In 2009 he presented a radio programme entitled From the Sputnik to the Shuttle, in which he retraced the main steps of the space era, and in 2009 narrated the epic history of the Apollo lunar missions for another radio broadcast.

A book based on that show - From the Earth to the Moon - was published in 2011. Guidoni has also written numerous newspaper and magazine articles and written books for children about space and space travel.

The town of Acuto sits on a ridge in the Ernici mountains
The town of Acuto sits on a ridge in the Ernici mountains
Travel tip:

The town of Acuto, which sits on a ridge in the Ernici mountains about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Frosinone in Lazio and about 80km (50 miles) southeast of Rome, suffers harsh winters with regular snowfall but is a popular place for city dwellers looking for an escape from the summer heat because its position exposes it to cooling breezes.  The town developed in the fifth century when many residents of nearby Anagni fled there in the face of a barbarian invasion. The town has many churches, going back to the days when Agnani and Acuto were important towns in the Papal States.

Piazza Cavour in the centre of Agnani
Piazza Cavour in the centre of Agnani
Travel tip:

Anagni is about 15km (9 miles) by road from Acuto. During medieval times many popes chose to reside in Anagni, considering it safer and healthier than Rome. The town produced four popes, the last one being Boniface VIII, who was hiding out there in 1303 when he received the famous Anagni slap, delivered by an angry member of the fiercely antipapal Colonna family after he refused to abdicate. After his death the power of the town declined and the papal court was transferred to Avignon. The medieval Palace of Boniface VIII, is near the Cathedral in the centre of the town. Close by there is a restaurant named Lo Schiaffo - The Slap.

More reading:

How Samantha Cristoforetti set records for women in space

The scientist from Rome who created the world's first nuclear reactor

The kidnapping of Pope Boniface VIII

Also on this day:

1750: A composer at the heart of a murder mystery: the birth of Antonio Salieri

1943: The birth of the football great Gianni Rivera


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