“We must be Europeans. There has to be integration and interconnection. We have to feel Italian, French, Spanish and German, but at the same time transform ourselves into Europeans – without losing our identity”. This was the message launched by Luca Parmitano, Italian astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Italian air force pilot, in orbit on the Italian Space Agency’s (ASI) first long-term mission and now ambassador for the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. “Being Europeans”, the astronaut continued, “means making one’s own contribution, whatever it is, large or small, and having the opportunity and the desire to take from other nations that which they can give. I always say that Italy stands out like a jewel on our blue Mediterranean sea, visible only because it has such a recognisable shape, but in reality, from Gibraltar to the fiords of Scandinavia there are no borders, either natural or artificial”.
Sensation of peace
To better explain the absence of borders, Parmitano cites his personal experience of space. Looking down from the Cupola (built in Italy along with other space station modules) one has a “sensation of peace, of well being. I realised, watching from above, that borders were only artificial. We made them and drew them on maps, we took countries and drew them in different colours. It was what we needed to do to externalise our inner limitations while in reality, viewed from space, the lands of men are a continuum”. Observing Europe in particular, “is it truly possible to imagine a single people, living well and in peace and prosperity, like the European Community. Our European Union is an extraordinary peace process; for the first time in history”, the astronaut underscored, “nations have given up a portion of their sovereignty for a common greater good”.
Astronaut ambassador for EU Presidency
The decision to appoint an astronaut as ambassador for the Italian EU Presidency was not a chance one. On the one hand, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of European cooperation in space; on the other, it is recognition of the Italian aerospace industry’s contribution to this avant-garde sector. “When I was told that I would be given this role, I felt an immediate joy, because it is surely a great honour that makes me very happy, but it is also a great responsibility”, Parmitano stressed. “I carry a highly important message that I feel is truly mine; and the opportunity to have a communication platform is an immense privilege. It means being able to stand before people, especially young people, who I most prefer to speak with, to convey this message: We must be Europeans”.
40% of inhabitable area in space station built in Italy
The astronaut – the only Italian to have taken part in over 20 experiments, two extra-vehicular activities and 4 shuttle dockings – also spoke about our country’s contribution to the international space station and to the sector in general. “A full 40% of the station’s inhabitable area was built in Italy”, he pointed out; “we have 5 permanent modules: the Columbus, the Nodo 1,2 and 3, the PMM Leonardo and the Cupola, our window on the world. If this has become a reality, and is such an exceptional accomplishment, it is because Italian know-how has made that possible. The Italian aerospace industry is surely something we can be proud of, but it is not the only thing”, he underscored. “I can offer other examples of places where we excel, the automotive industry, for example, which is famous the world over; fashion and culinary arts too, all pillars of that culture that Italy exports. Certainly, the aerospace industry is the most strongly linked with research and that is a fundamental marriage. Research means future. Investing in that marriage means giving impetus and thrust to the entire industrial sector, especially in times like these”, Parmitano concluded, “in which so much talk is about the crisis and how to get out of it”.