European woman takes command of International Space Station for 1st time

group of astronauts and cosmonauts assembled in the international space station. samantha cristoforetti is in the front holding a mic
The Expedition 67 change of command to European astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on Sept. 28, 2022. (Image credit: NASA Television)

A Russian cosmonaut said "war will end everywhere" while handing over command of the space station Wednesday (Sept. 28) to Samantha Cristoforetti, who is now the first European woman in charge of the orbiting lab.

The entirety of the International Space Station's (ISS) current Expedition 67 mission has occurred during Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which began in February. Media reports in recent days suggest that Russia is now turning to conscription of soldiers amid sustained Ukrainian resistance.

Cristoforetti is taking the helm of the space station as its various partners are stressing that space cooperation continues despite the strife on the ground. (Notably, SpaceX's Crew-5 mission to the ISS is set to launch next week with a Russian cosmonaut aboard — a first for a private American crewed vehicle.)

Related: Russia's invasion of Ukraine: Astronauts share their unique perspective

Cristoforetti is the fifth European commander (opens in new tab) of the ISS, following Frank De Winne, Alexander Gerst, Luca Parmitano and Thomas Pesquet, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). During Wednesday's change-of-command ceremony, outgoing  commander Oleg Artemyev emphasized that the complex currently hosts 10 people representing three countries: Russia, the United States and Italy.

"This means that, in spite of everything, in spite of all the storms on Earth, we continue our international cooperation, and thank God that there are smart people who do not stop such a thread of peace," Artemyev said in Russian. (This translation was provided by Google from an automated transcript of his speech.)

Cristoforetti's command will require her to take charge of crew activities on site at the ISS, including "the performance and well-being of the crew on orbit, maintaining effective communication with the teams on Earth, and coordinating the crew response in case of emergencies," ESA officials wrote. She will lead Expedition 68, which officially begins when Artemyev and fellow cosmonauts Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov depart the orbiting lab early Thursday (Sept. 29) aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The ISS is a multinational consortium with the United States and Russia as majority partners; ESA also plays a major if slightly lesser role. ESA-Russian relations have soured due to the Ukraine invasion, however, delaying the life-hunting ExoMars rover mission that was supposed to lift off earlier this year, among other impacts.

Artemyev, 51, was about five years old during the groundbreaking Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. That 1975 mission was only a few days long, but it was significant as it took place during a thaw in the space race and Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was the last major human space collaboration between those partners until the space shuttle-Mir space station program, which happened in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and was an important proving ground for ISS. (Mir was led by Russia, which emerged as an independent nation after the Soviet Union fell.)

"There were also difficult relations between countries, and there were people who found this path, which, in the end, will lead to peace," Artemyev, who served with the Soviet Army prior to the nation's collapse in 1991, said of Apollo-Soyuz. "And in the end, our war will end everywhere."

Related: Apollo-Soyuz astronaut reflects on changing U.S.-Russia relations in space

an astronaut and a cosmonaut put their heads together in space. one is floating upside down

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project marked the historic first major example of international space cooperation in which the United States and Soviet Union, Cold War rivals, orchestrated an in-space docking on July 17, 1975. (Image credit: NASA)

Artemyev said that Expedition 67, one of the very few international space collaborations remaining for Russia after the Ukraine invasion, was a fruitful one.

He mentioned that the crew did "a lot of spacewalks," most of them to service the newly arrived European Robotic Arm on the Russian segment of the space station. (Cristoforetti conducted a rare European spacewalk in a Russian Orlan spacesuit as a part of this work; she was the first European woman to don that suit in space.)

In between, Expedition 67 conducted an estimated 200 experiments in orbit; three-time ISS resident Artemyev joked he had never seen "such tired American astronauts" and that as a result, "time passes very quickly for them."

Artemyev added that for him, Matveev and Korsakov, Expedition 67 was an "unforgettable time," and he urged the crew to call for help if required. "Call us, we will come to your aid," he said, just before handing over a key to symbolize transfer of power to Cristoforetti.

In photos: Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti takes Europe's historic 1st female spacewalk

Cristoforetti made no direct reference to the Ukraine invasion in her remarks during Wednesday's ceremony, but she thanked Artemyev for his generosity and his hard work in a short speech.

"I think you have really helped us grow together, not only as crew members and crewmates, but also — as you said — as one big space family," she said in English. She then thanked all control centers (from Moscow to Munich) because "we are just one tiny part of a gigantic team on the ground."

Of her command, the two-time spaceflyer said it is "an honor and a privilege" to represent Europe, and especially Italy, on the ISS. Switching to Italian, in remarks also translated by Google, she thanked those in her country who have supported her.

"If I am here today, [it is] thanks to the great commitment to the great results that our country has achieved and will continue to achieve in the space sector," Cristoforetti said.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace