Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Station Flyers Mourn Death of Crewmate's Mom

The crew of the International Space Station and flight controllers in five Mission Control Centers around the globe paused for a moment of silence today to pay tribute to the mother of Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who died Monday.

The funeral of Maria Motta, 78, took place today in her hometown of Verano Brianza just outside Milan. The International Space Station flew over Italy a half-hour later, and the crew observed a moment of radio silence and then captured images of the country from the Cupola observation deck attached to the U.S. Tranquility module.

Nespoli launched to the station in December and is scheduled to return to Earth on May 23. German astronaut Thomas Reiter, the European Space Agency director of human spaceflight and operations, represented the consortium at the funeral. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti delivered the condolences of the European Astronaut Corps.

"There are probably no words that could relieve this sadness but our thoughts are with Paolo, his family and friends," veteran astronaut Michel Tognini, head of the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, said in an ESA news release.

"We all are in our minds very close to Paolo and his family, and try to give him sufficient strength in space to cope with this difficult situation and overcome this severe personal loss which is already very difficult in normal conditions, but for Paolo being still on the International Space Station it is even harder."

Reiter and ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain notified Nespoli of his mother's death in a private call on Monday. Astronauts flying long tours on the station decide whether they want to be notified of the deaths of family members or friends prior to launching to the outpost.

Nespoli is not the first to be notified of the death of a close relative during a tour of duty on the International Space Station. On Jan. 8, outpost commander Scott Kelly was told his twin brother's wife -- U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. -- had been gravely wounded in an assassination attempt in Tucson that left six dead and more than a dozen wounded. His brother, Mark Kelly, also is an astronaut and will command Endeavour's 25th and final flight, which is tentatively set for launch next Tuesday.

In 2007, U.S. astronaut Dan Tani was notified of the death of his 90-year-old mother, Rose, when her car was struck by a train in Chicago.

Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Dezhurov learned of his mother's death while he was on the space station Mir in 1995. And cosmonaut Georgy Grechko was told of his father's death two days after he returned from the Soviet Union's Salyut 6 space station in 1978.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge the top image, a NASA photo of Paolo Nespoli aboard the space station. The second European Space Agency image of Nespoli and his mother was taken before his launch to the station.

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