Retired Italian astronaut Paulo Nespoli of the European Space Agency outlines the long journey he took to realising his dream of working in space.

Nespoli flew on three space missions, spending a total of 313 days in space. He had wanted to become an astronaut as a young child after watching the moon landings, but it wasn’t until he reached the age of 26 that he decided to make his dream become reality.

Nespoli shared his story in a session named “How cool is it working in space?” aimed at inspiring the next generation into space exploration during the FIA Connect’s Farnborough Friday. He had realised, in his mid twenties, that his dream of going up into space would remain just that unless he took action to put it into reality. At the time, he had no degree and couldn’t speak English and was serving with the Italian army. “I was paratrooper, jumping off perfectly good planes,” he explained.

Nespoli: life in space began at 40

He went to university and trained to became an aerospace engineer, then developed his expertise working on space and communications projects. It took three attempts – and two rejections – for Nespoli to be selected for the astronaut training programme by Italy’s ASI space agency at the grand age of 40. One month later, he joined ESA’s European Astronaut Corps, based at the European Astronaut Centre.

Astronaut training complete, in 2000 he qualified for a mission on the US Space Shuttle to the International Space Station. He completed courses in Space Shuttle robotics arms and advanced skills training for spacewalks.

Nespoli’s second mission was on board Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft before being assigned to a third spaceflight as part of Expeditions 52 and 53 to the International Space Station. Nespoli retired as an active European Space Agency astronaut in 2018 following 27 years of service.

Former astronaut on a mission to inspire next generation

Nespoli encouraging youngsters to dream big and follow their passions when thinking about future careers. Coming from a small town outside Milan, he said there were plenty of people on hand to tell him that his dream wouldn’t happen. But he encouraged the next generation of astronauts not to be put off by the limitations of others.

“Think about something impossible, think about crazy stuff,” Nespoli said. Then wake up, stop dreaming and start working to make that happen, because if you don’t do that, they will always be dreams.”

During a question and answer sessions, he urged youngsters to “make your passions the core of your life.” During the session, he also answered questions from youngsters including what inspired him to become an astronaut, what he most missed about Earth when he was in space and what planet he would most like to visit.

Images: European Space Agency

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