ABU DHABI // Passion and patience are key traits for fulfilling the dream of travelling to space, according to Italian astronaut Maurizio Cheli.
Speaking to students at the Higher Colleges of Technology Abu Dhabi Men’s College on Tuesday, Mr Cheli recounted the journey that led him in 1996 to become one of the first Europeans to orbit Earth.
“Passion is what moves people and makes us go the extra mile,” said Mr Cheli, whose love of flying aircraft led him to the International Space Centre.
Having grown up in what was then the small northern Italian village of Modena, to parents who had never flown on a commercial flight, Mr Cheli said he knew he wanted to be a pilot when he saw planes flying overhead at a young age.
“I looked up and said ‘I want to pilot one of these and make that plane do what I want’. I have never looked back.”
After joining the Italian air force academy, training with the United States air force and working as a test pilot for combat aircraft, Mr Cheli has logged more than 5,000 flying hours in more than 100 different types of aircraft.
However, none of his flights were as thrilling or challenging as that aboard space shuttle Columbia.
Mr Cheli said any doubts he had about the dangers of space flight quickly disappeared when sitting in the cockpit he realised the nearest person not aboard was more than 8 kilometres away.
“When the boosters ignite you know you’re going somewhere. You cannot stop the combustion,” he said.
Treating the attending students to a video of the launch, Mr Cheli highlighted the sonic wave that passed over the shuttle 40 seconds after lift-off, signifying the aircraft was travelling faster than the speed of sound.
A mere 50 seconds later he was travelling faster than he had on any military jet.
During his 16-day stay aboard the International Space Station he found advantages and disadvantages to life in microgravity.
An avid cyclist back home in the mountains of northern Italy, Mr Cheli said he enjoyed combating the atrophying effects of living in microgravity with the use of the ISS’s stationary bicycle.
During one of his sessions the shuttle was aligned perfectly and he could see the shuttle circumnavigating the Earth from the windows in the direction he was cycling.
“I have a record nobody else has. I cycled around Earth in 90 minutes.”
Research into the effects of microgravity on astronauts would be of great use in treating illnesses caused by sedentary life back on Earth, he said.
This was just one way space was a natural laboratory.
Mr Cheli said he was profoundly effected by the images he saw from orbit, which illustrated a beautiful but fragile planet.
Likening the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere to that of the skin of a peach, he said it wasn’t hard to picture the effects of climate change from space.
“Pollution, deforestation, drought – you go to space and these concepts become images, which is much more powerful than any explanation people can give you.”
The lecturer left Maha Al Ajmi, 22, contemplating a change in his major.
“To see his journey to space was something surreal and very inspiring,” said the mechanical aviation major at Abu Dhabi HCT, who was now considering a shift to aerospace.
Mr Cheli’s lecture was part of a visit by the Italian Space Agency, which signed an agreement with the UAE Space Agency to strengthen their cooperation.
Chairman of the UAE Space Agency, Dr Khalifa Al Rumaithi, said their Italian counterparts’ experience would be of great benefit.
Prof Roberto Battiston, president of the Italian Space Agency, said he was grateful that talks between the two agencies were coming to fruition.
“I am pleased that we were able to achieve this on the ground, and that today marks the launch of this vital cooperation,” he said.
Source: uae news