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Italian astronaut joins race for moon mission

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti has thrown her hat into the ring to become the first European to land on the moon.

As part of its Artemis program, the United States is aiming to send astronauts back to the moon later this decade and the European Space Agency is in talks to secure a seat on one of the trips to the lunar surface.

“If things line up in a way that I have an opportunity to land on the moon, of course, I would love to do that,” Cristoforetti said while speaking at the European Space Conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

The ESA provides service modules for Artemis in exchange for seats on manned space missions. As it stands, the ESA has secured three spots under the barter deal but it has not yet received a commitment for one on a moon landing.

Cristoforetti, who returned last year from a mission commanding the International Space Station, will face tough competition for any future seat.

In December, France’s President Emmanuel Macron opened the race to land a European on the lunar surface when he backed French astronaut Thomas Pesquet during a visit to NASA’s headquarters alongside U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

Speaking at the European Space Conference, Director General of the ESA Josef Aschbacher said the chances of seeing “European boots on the moon” were “pretty good” and that talks were continuing with his counterparts at NASA.

“Whenever we have the slot, the allocation will then be done two to three years before that,” Aschbacher added.

Cristoforetti is the only woman in the current cohort of European astronauts, though it is not yet clear whether Rome will put similar political support behind any plan to send her to the moon.

Last year Italy’s now-Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni congratulated Cristoforetti for taking on the role of commander of the ISS, praising her “determination and passion.”



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