According to the female astronaut who's been there
Female astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti broke the record for the longest single space flight by a woman when she travelled to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014 (although it has since been broken by American Peggy Whitson). Born in Milan, Samantha also famously became the first person to brew an espresso in space, and delighted viewers back on Earth with her regular videos about the practicalities of living in space including how to sleep, cook and wash your hair in zero gravity.
Marie Claire’s Editor-in-Chief Trish Halpin caught up with Samantha at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit this week, to find out what it’s really like to go to space.
Weightlessness is amazing
Samantha confirmed what we have all long suspected – weightlessness is a lot of fun: ‘It’s the coolest thing – but it is also a challenge because you’ll put something down, and when you turn around and look back it’s probably not there any more. In the beginning you lose everything all the time, and then you get to the stage where you are crazily attaching things with Velcro, and then you get to the third stage where you can just keep objects in your side vision and if they start floating away just give them a little push back.’
Getting to space takes just 9 minutes
But it takes around six hours reach the ISS. And even after you dock it’s not quite the end of the journey: ‘There are a lot of checks when you dock, which take a couple of hours, to make sure nothing is leaking out into space. Then there are two hatches – you open the hatch on your side and they open theirs, and there’s this nice meeting of the crew.’ (So just like the movies, then).
Could we see female astronauts on Mars?
‘I would love to participate in a mission to Mars.’ Samantha told the summit. ‘It’s not like we can’t go to Mars, of course we could, but right now the economy of it is prohibitive – it would cost very much. I don’t know if it will happen – definitely not in my professional life, but maybe in my lifetime if I am lucky enough to live a long life. What I’m focusing on now is my next flight to the space station which is hopefully going to happen in the next decade.’
‘You are sitting on top of something that can easily turn into a bomb’
Samantha was also totally chilled about being strapped to a rocket: ‘You sit at the top of this rocket, about 2 and a half hours before launch, and they close this hatch and you are basically sealed off from the rest of the world. I was expecting to feel a lot of apprehension because you never know how it’s going to go, but it was a moment of peace for me – just very serene and peaceful.’
What’s the best thing about being a female astronaut?
‘All of it! Sometimes you have to pinch yourself when you look out of the window and everybody you know – billions of people, are down there on the planet and it is just you and five other people who happen to be out in space. The uniqueness of the situation and the view of the earth from space is magnificent.’