Luca Parmitano is an Italian astronaut for the European Space Agency, who was the youngest astronaut to take on a long-duration mission. At the age of 36, he spent 166 days on the International Space Station.
He was also the only human in space who had a near drowning accident. During an EVA (extravehicular activity) in July 2013, Luca Parmitano had a water leak in his spacesuit – by far, one of the scariest human emergencies in spacewalk history.
Super Trained not Super Human
I met Luca Parmitano in the Space section of the Science Museum in London. He spoke to me in fluent Russian. Noticing my eyebrows rising he told me that every astronaut must learn the language as part of their training; Tim Peake even called it the biggest challenge in his astronaut career. Currently, astronauts are sent to the International Space Station on Soyuz vehicles. All Soyuz spacecraft controls are in Russian, plus the Mission Control Center gives commands in Russian for the entire time of descent. Hence the Russian language challenge for each and every astronaut.
“Many people see astronauts as super-humans. The truth is that astronauts are the most average people you can find on Earth. What sets us apart is our training. We are able to perform in the extreme environment like space because of the people that train us.”
According to Luca, the selection process favors those who can easily be trained for what they need to do. This means that superstars have a harder time getting in, while the average folk get a green light.
The Best Story That Isn’t Shared Never Happened
Space is a great inspiration for lots of people for infinite reasons. But seeing our planet from above - that’s the perspective that only astronauts can share. Although there is no requirement to share their experience on social media, Luca was happy to tell his story.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound? Luca sees stories this way - “Even the most beautiful story that isn’t shared, basically never happened. Communication through social media platforms is a powerful tool. Astronauts want to share their experience, a message that will matter, be relevant and be heard.”
Our Planet is a Living Organism
Luca goes on and reveals what it felt like to see the Earth from space.
“Europe at night looked like a living organism. Have you ever looked at a brain activity MRI? That’s what it looks like, you can just imagine the neurons communicating with each other. From outer space, the Earth is a living thing - one big creature, one big brain. What I couldn't see were borders between any countries.”
“Once we understand that together we are like one big brain, one incredibly big unit working in perfect sync, but only once we remove internal divisions. This image is more important in what’s missing than what is in front of you.”
The Power of One
Realizing that the planet is really one large living organism, Luca discovered that as a society, we can only go beyond our capabilities and explore the universe if we do so in unity.
“Astronauts and agencies have one big vision. It’s not a dream. Dream is the unachievable, but vision is something we are working for. The more ambitious the vision, the more people will unite behind it.”