Europe's 1st female space station commander says 'space ninja' crew is ready to come home

astronaut samantha cristoforetti floating in an airlock and wearing a blue garment that goes underneath a spacesuit
The European Space Agency's Samantha Cristoforetti was the first European female commander of the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA)

It's been a whirlwind two weeks for the first European female commander of the International Space Station, who is now about to head home to Earth.

Expedition 68 commander Samantha Cristoforetti thanked her crew of "space ninjas" after her brief time in charge of the International Space Station (ISS), during a live change of command ceremony Wednesday (Oct. 12) that aired on NASA Television ahead of undocking and splashdown as soon as tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 13), pending an ongoing weather delay to undocking on time on Wednesday.

"I just want to say what a privilege it's been to serve as a commander for this short period of time — short but intense," Cristoforetti, a European Space Agency astronaut finishing her second long-duration mission, told the 10 other people currently working in space alongside her. 

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

Three of those 10 are Cristoforetti's crewmates on SpaceX's Crew-4 mission, which arrived at the station in April. It was a busy six months aloft for Crew-4, with Cristoforetti and others conducting numerous spacewalks. Cristoforetti also participated in public engagement opportunities ranging from yoga to TikTok to cosplay depicting characters from "Battlestar Galactica," "Gravity" and "2001: A Space Odyssey (opens in new tab)."

Speaking to the three rookie spaceflyers aboard SpaceX's Crew-5 mission, who arrived just six days ago on Oct. 6, Cristoforetti said she enjoyed watching them change from "being new and someone helpless … to already looking like 'space ninjas' in just a few days."

Since taking command of the ISS on Sept. 28, Cristoforetti saw a Russian Soyuz spacecraft depart, the SpaceX Crew-5 group arrive and began preparing for her own return back to Earth along with the rest of SpaceX's Crew-4. 

Crew-4 conducted about 200 scientific experiments after its arrival at the orbiting lab on April 27, including investigations to prepare for lunar sorties. One experiment, a radiation vest known as AstroRad, will also run on NASA's Artemis 1, an uncrewed mission that will launch to lunar orbit no earlier than Nov. 14.

Cristoforetti handed over command of the ISS today to Russian cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev. In his own remarks during today's ceremony, Prokopyev wished the crew a "safe flight, a soft landing— the most important thing." (He spoke in Russian; translation provided by Google.)

"I want to say that we say 'Goodbye,'" he added to Cristoforetti, "and 'See you again.'"

This story was updated at 4:09 p.m. EDT to include the weather delay to undocking.

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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