Revised ISS Flight Plan Brings Change for ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti

NASA astronauts and Crew-4 crewmembers Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines and Kjell Lindgren stand alongside ESA astronaut and Crew-4 crewmember Samantha Cristoforetti. (Credit: SpaceX)

PARIS (ESA PR) — In May 2021 it was announced that ESA astronaut and Dragon Crew-4 mission specialist Samantha Cristoforetti would serve as Commander of International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 68a.

As part of normal vehicle scheduling, the Space Station flight programme was recently updated adjusting the upcoming crew rotation for Crew-4 and Crew-5, resulting in a shorter mission for Crew-4. ISS Expedition 68 will now take place after Samantha’s departure from the Station.

Throughout her time on board, Samantha will have the role of lead of the United States Orbital Segment (USOS), which includes the US, European, Japanese and Canadian modules and components of the Space Station.

Segments of the International Space Station. (Credit: ESA–K. Oldenburg)

Setting the schedule

Crew members are assigned to flight opportunities and International Space Station roles by the Multilateral Crew Operations Panel (MCOP). This panel is made up of representatives from ESA, NASA, Roscosmos, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). ESA is represented by Head of the European Astronaut Centre Frank De Winne.  

Frank says it is not unusual for the flight programme to be adjusted, since traffic to the International Space Station must be carefully coordinated based on operational needs.  

“While this means Samantha will no longer be International Space Station commander, the Panel stands by its endorsement of her as a leader. She will continue to be fully trained for the commander position and it is agreed that, should the schedule revert to the initial one, she would step into this role,” he adds.

Frank De Winne, head of ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany. (Credit: ESA – F. Algeri)

Samantha says, “As crewmembers, we are ready to contribute as needed. I am humbled to serve as USOS lead and this role includes most of the duties I would have had as commander, but I also recognise that many people in Europe, especially women, were inspired by the perspective of having the first European female ISS commander. I regret that this will not happen on my flight, but we are in the process of selecting a new class of astronauts and I am confident that this class will include highly competent and driven women who will be ready, in the not-so-distant future, to fulfil leadership roles.”

NASA astronauts Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti in training for their Crew Dragon flight to the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker says Samantha’s appointment to USOS Lead stands testament to the qualities she brings to the Station.

“As a second-time flier and competent leader, Samantha’s knowledge, calm demeanour and previous experience in orbit are a real asset to the crew. She is an excellent role model for those currently participating in ESA’s astronaut selection process, particularly for our female applicants, as they seek to represent Europe in space.”