The Italian Almanac

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Paolo Nespoli

Dizzy Astronaut

Paolo Nespoli felt dizzy on his return from space but is fine now, the Italian astronaut said in his first interview since completing his mission. "Apparently it's normal for people who are tall and thin like myself to have problems getting their heart pumping when they return to gravity after a long time in space," Nespoli explained by phone from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Italian astronaut and the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery landed after a 15-day mission for the European Space Agency (ESA) and Italian Space Agency (ASI), in collaboration with NASA. Nespoli's absence when the other members of the crew left the shuttle and his no-show at the traditional post-mission press conference had given rise to concern over his health. "There was no real problem. What happened was relatively simple: I had to undergo some additional tests, because of the experiments I had carried out, and I felt a little spaced out, disorientated," the 50-year-old astronaut said.

Nespoli played a key role in the Esperia mission which was centered on the attachment of the Italian-made Node 2 module to the International Space Station (ISS). Node 2 was the first addition to the ISS's pressurized volume in six years. The module added an extra 34 sqm of living and working space to the orbital station. Nespoli's main role during the mission was to act as Intra Vehicular (IV) astronaut inside the space station, directing the four spacewalks needed to attach Node 2 and other modules, as well as carrying out external repairs to the ISS.

Node 2, also known as 'Harmony', was built by Italy's Thales Alenia Space on a commission from the ASI to serve as a connecting passageway for other laboratory modules to be attached in the future. These include the ESA Columbus laboratory which is set to be sent up in a shuttle mission next month together with the Japanese Kibo laboratory.

Nespoli, a member of the European Astronaut Corps, was the third Italian to travel into space after Umberto Guidoni in April 2000 and Roberto Vittori in 2002.