In July 1998, he was selected as an astronaut for Italian Space Agency (ASI) and in August 1998, Nespoli was assigned by the European Space Agency to train at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
On 23 October 2007 Paolo launched on board STS-120 to the International Space Station; the Space Shuttle mission which delivered the Harmony module (formerly known as Node 2) to the International Space Station. Harmony was built by Thales Alenia Space at its facility in Turin, Italy. He participated as a mission specialist and remained in space for 15 days, 2 hours and 23 minutes. During STS-120, he participated in the
Esperia mission for the European Space Agency.
Expedition 26/27 'MagISStra'
Expedition 26/27 flight engineer Paolo Nespoli poses with Robonaut 2
Paolo Nespoli served as first flight engineer for Expedition 26/27, Europe’s third six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
On 15 December 2010 Nespoli flew aboard the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station with the Russian cosmonaut Dmitri Kondratyev and NASA’s astronaut Catherine Coleman. The three members of the crew returned to Earth in 24 May 2011. This mission, dubbed ‘MagISStra’, is Paolo Nespoli’s second flight in space.
From 15 December 2010 to 24 May 2011, Paolo Nespoli’s duties aboard the ISS included participating in the docking operations to receive Europe’s second Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-2) "Johannes Kepler", a visiting spacecraft that will deliver essential cargo to the Station. In early January, Nespoli filmed the majority of the footage for the documentary film First Orbit, and as a result is credited as its director of photography.
Nespoli took part in the arrival of the second Japanese HII Transfer Vehicle (HTV-2), an unmanned spacecraft used to resupply the ISS. He was the prime operator for berthing the HTV-2 to the ISS after the free-flying vehicle was captured by NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman. In May 2011, Space Shuttle Endeavour has delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) to the ISS.
During Nespoli's stint with Expedition 27, his mother, Maria, died on 4 May 2011. The crew observed 1 minute of silence the following day around the time of her funeral.
Paolo Nespoli carried out an intensive programme of experiments in the Station, ranging from radiation monitoring to measurements that could improve in petroleum reservoirs. The mission scientific programme covered different fields on human research, fluid physics, radiation, biology and technology demonstrations.
Nespoli contributed to the scientific exploitation of Europe’s Columbus laboratory. As an astronaut, he carried out several experiments for ESA, NASA and also the Japanese and Canadian space agencies. During the mission, Paolo participated in some educational activities: the educational programme "Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut" which gave children the chance to follow an international initiative built around health, well-being and nutrition. He also participated in a greenhouse activity in space. Nespoli used ESA’s novel 3D camera to show images of the ISS.
As Paolo left the ISS on 23 May 2011 in the Soyuz TMA-20 he was able to take the first pictures of a space shuttle docked with the ISS from the perspective of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Expedition 52/53 and the VITA mission
Nespoli is part of Expedition 52/53, which started in 2017. He launched on Soyuz MS-05 on July 28, 2017 15:41 UTC. Nespoli's mission to the ISS is called VITA. Vita is an acronym for Vitality, Innovation, Technology and Ability. In addition, in Italian it means life, reflecting the scientific experiments and the technologies needed for life in space. Additional activities will include outreach like Mission-X: Train Like an Astronaut, the European Astro Pi Challenge (where European students run their own code on Raspberry Pi mini computers installed on the ISS).
VITA mission logo
The mission's logo was developed jointly by ESA, Italian Space Agency, and Nespoli.
The overall circle represent the planet Earth, with the main objectives linked by a symbol which is a reformulation of the infinity symbol, called "Third paradise" and designed by Michelangelo Pistoletto. Connected inside are a DNA strand for the scientific experiments, a book for education, outreach and culture, and Earth as a symbol of humanity. The colors represent the Italian flag.
During the VITA Mission Nespoli completed more than 60 experiments. He also recorded the first content created in space specifically for use on Wikipedia. During his first month in orbit Nespoli acted as cinematographer for National Geographic Channel's One Strange Rock, filming the sequences with astronaut Peggy Whitson which appear in episode 10 of the series .
Nespoli returned to Earth on December 14, 2017. The Soyuz MS-05 landed on 8:38 UTC. The duration of the mission was 138 days, 16 hours, 56 minutes and 37 seconds.