TIME A Year In Space

Meet the Woman Who Has Spent 200 Days in Space

Homeward bound: Cristoforetti prepares for her departure from the space station in June
WSA/NASA Homeward bound: Cristoforetti prepares for her departure from the space station in June

A record-smashing stay aboard the International Space Station can leave you forever changed

There’s no such thing as a women’s league in space. The U.S. may just have won the Women’s World Cup, and basketball may have the WNBA, but there’s never been a WNASA or a women’s space station. The boys’ club that was space travel has long since become a co-ed enterprise. But that doesn’t mean female astronauts and cosmonauts don’t deserve to be recognized. With crews still predominantly male, there remains a glass ceiling between Earth and orbit, and it is the women, not the men, who must smash it.

One of the most noteworthy of the current corps of female fliers is Italian fighter pilot Samantha Cristoforetti, who recently returned from 200 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS), setting the women’s duration record for time in space. Cristoforetti recently spoke to TIME to discuss her experiences in orbit, the challenges she faced, and the insights about life on Earth that come from being off it for so long. The interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity:

TIME: Your recent stay on the ISS was your first trip to space. What surprised you most about your time there?

Cristoforetti: I don’t think that I had very set expectations. I was very open, like a blank page. So I discovered many things, like how it feels to float—just that sensation of being so light to the point of having no weight whatsoever, of being able to move in three dimensions. Everything is just effortless. You’re like Superman all day long for 200 days. But then of course are the challenges. You’re used to setting things down and they’re going to still be there when you go and get them. While in space, if you just let something go, it’s going to be gone. I got to the point, to the very advanced stage at the end of the mission, where I actually could let something just go, and I had just a subconscious awareness of what it was, and if it started to float away, I would just go and grab it.

With all the various ways of communicating with Earth when you’re on the station, did you still feel any isolation?

In many ways, you still feel very connected because we are able to make phone calls to people on Earth. We have videoconferences scheduled on the weekends with our families. A selected number of people can send you emails and we can email back and forth. We have kind of slow access to the Internet, and so we can do a little bit of social media and we can use the Internet if we are very patient. On the other hand, you also kind of live in a bubble because there’s only so many people who actually have access to you. And then of course when you look at Earth there’s an ambivalent feeling because you know that you’re not that far but at the same time, it’s such an alien view that you really feel like you’re disconnected from the world. Everything flies by so fast that you almost don’t have the time to make a virtual connection with whatever country or continent or feature is passing beneath you.

Did you feel you had any privacy while you were on-board?

The space station, first of all, is huge. Sometimes people think that we are like 6 people enclosed in very close quarters, in a very small environment. I attended a military academy when I was 24, and believe me, we were a lot more in closed quarters back then than I was in the space station. We also have a little bit of a personal space. It’s about the size of an old phone booth for people who are old enough to remember phone booths. You can close the doors. You sleep in there. It gets pretty dark. I had some pictures and other little personal items. And so definitely that’s your private space, and most of us choose to go in there to make phone calls for example, so that you don’t disturb other people but also so that your phone call is private.

Now that you’re the female who holds the record for being in space the longest, how does that feel?

(Laughs) Well, I think records are more something for media to write about because it’s potentially a piece of news. But of course for me, it really doesn’t make a huge difference having been in space 200 days as opposed to 190, which would not have been the record. I mean I was happy to stay, but the opportunity to stay longer, which is what led to the record, depended on an accident that we had with [a Progress] cargo vehicle [which failed to reach orbit and delayed operations]. So really I didn’t really do anything to earn that record.

You spent a couple of months with astronauts Scott Kelly and Misha Kornienko, who will be aboard the station for a full year. What do you think is the hardest challenge they will face?

Well, you know, every person is different, so it’s really hard to say what would be challenging for them. But I would imagine staying healthy. I felt over the course of six months of my physical well-being somewhat degrading as time passed. It was nothing that I could really pinpoint, but just the general sensation that my body over time was getting a little bit tired of this environment. I felt like my body probably at some point needed to get back to Earth, to breathing normal air, to be back in normal gravity.

Did your 200 days in space change your perspective about life on Earth?

When you look at the Earth from space, it looks like a big space ship that is flying through space, and oh, by the way, carrying all of humanity on it. And so you start to get this feeling that, just as on the space station, we can only function if we all work together as a crew and we’re all crew members. None of us is a passenger. Nobody is up there because they bought a ticket and they’re just going to enjoy the ride. You have to take care of each other. Now it’s a lot easier when it’s six people, but we have to somehow progressively work towards having the same attitude on planet Earth. There’s another crew coming afterwards, the next generation, and we have to make sure that we’ll leave them a spaceship which is in good shape.

TIME is producing a series of films about the yearlong mission of Kornienko and American astronaut Scott Kelly. Watch the series here.

TIME

Watch Live as Russians Conduct 6 Hour Spacewalk

The cosmonauts will be performing maintenance on the International Space Station

Two Russian cosmonauts are set to put on their spacesuits and leave the confines of their outer space home to perform maintenance on the International Space Station Monday.

Veteran cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are scheduled to spend just shy of six and a half hours outside station to complete various tasks.

During their spacewalk, they will be rigging new equipment, performing a photographic inspection of the exterior of the station, replacing and maintaining external antennas, and cleaning a window of exhaust deposits from visiting spacecraft.

TIME is producing a series of films about the yearlong mission of Kornienko and American astronaut Scott Kelly. Watch the series here.

TIME space

Astronauts Successfuly Join Colleagues on the International Space Station

The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

Three astronauts have docked with the International Space Station and are joining three existing members on board the station for the next five months.

The three astronauts arriving at the International Space Station include American astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, who are flying for the first time. They are led by Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko. The crew is slated to stay onboard for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

The trio will join American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who have already been in space for 117 days. They launched in the early hours of March 28.

TIME is following the yearlong mission between American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

TIME space

Watch Astronauts Dock With the International Space Station

The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

After a successful launch, three astronauts are slated to dock with the International Space Station at 10:46 p.m. E.T. on Wednesday.

The astronauts launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz rocket at 5:02 p.m. EST. Over six hours, the crew orbited the Earth four times as they caught up with the space station, which orbits the Earth at 17,500 mph.

The three astronauts arriving at the International Space Station include American astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, who are flying for the first time. They are led by Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko. The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

The trio will join Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who have already been in space for 117 days. They launched in the early hours of March 28.

TIME is following the yearlong mission between American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

TIME space

Watch 3 Astronauts Launch for the International Space Station

Three astronauts who will spend the next five months in space launched from the desert in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.

The astronauts launched to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz rocket at 5:02 p.m. EST. Over six hours, the crew orbited the Earth four times before catching up to the space station, docking at 10:46 p.m. EST.

The astronauts’ launch was delayed after two consecutive failures of cargo vehicles that were meant to deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

The first setback occurred in April when the Russian Federal Space Agency was not able to regain control of a vehicle after launch. As a result, the Progress vehicle and the cargo it was carrying burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.

The second failure occurred on June 28 when the SpaceX Falcon exploded just two minutes after the launch.

The unsuccessful supply missions created a ripple effect through the public and private agencies that work with the International Space Station, delaying American astronaut Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren’s planned first spacewalk, which was supposed to occur between Aug. 10 and Labor Day. The failures also delayed work on the reconfiguration of the space station for the arrival of commercial cargo and crew vehicles.

The three astronauts arriving at the International Space Station on Wednesday include Lindgren and Kimiya Yui, who are flying for the first time. They are led by Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko. The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

The trio will join Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who have already been in space for 117 days. They launched in the early hours of March 28.

TIME is following the yearlong mission between American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

TIME space

Exclusive: Astronaut Talks About Going to Space for the First Time

He'll be in space for five months

Today is a big day for American astronaut Kjell Lindgren. He’s going to space for the first time.

TIME spoke with Lindgren just days before he left the United States for the launch in Kazakhstan.

“I’ve been counting down the days to the launch ever since I got assigned,” he said. “You start to have very real thoughts about what it means to climb into a rocket, to launch into orbit, and spend the next five months on the space station.”

Lindgren is board certified in emergency medicine and aerospace medicine. When he’s not training to spend time in space, he is also a husband and father of three.

He recently started an Instagram account where he’ll be posting updates from his mission.

You can watch the launch live on Time.com starting at 4pm EST Wednesday.

TIME is following the yearlong mission between American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, who are nearly four months into a yearlong mission aboard the international space station. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

TIME space

Space Junk Forces Space Station Crew to Seek Shelter

The debris was a fragment from an old Russian weather satellite

A chunk of space debris traveling more than eight miles per second forced three crew members aboard the International Space Station to seek emergency shelter on Thursday. NASA said the debris was a fragment from an old Russian weather satellite.

For almost an hour, American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka were instructed to stay inside the Soyuz capsule, which is docked to the International Space Station. This is only the fourth time in the 15-year life of the space station that it has had to implement this procedure, NASA said.

Video aboard the station showed Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka moving throughout the station to close hatches.

“Happy there was no impact,” Kelly said via Twitter. “Great coordination with international ground teams. Excellent training.”

Normally, NASA learns about incoming debris with more lead time. When it has more warning, jets on the station fire to maneuver the football-field sized structure out of the way. The ISS has been moved twice for debris since Scott Kelly came aboard in late March. But on Thursday, the crew only had 90 minutes notice. Another hour-and-a-half later, the crew received the all-clear and went back to work.

NASA estimates there may be as many as half-a-million pieces of debris that could pose a threat to spacecraft like the International Space Station, which orbits at a speed of about 17,500 mph, or four miles per second.

The debris that crossed the space station was estimated to be traveling about twice that speed.

Next week, three more crew members are scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan to join those on board.

Kelly and Kornienko are 110 days into a yearlong mission aboard the space station. It’s being covered by time in a multi-part TIME series, “A Year in Space,” which premiered last week. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

Read next: See the First Close-Up Photo of Mars Ever Taken

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TIME politics

See the Life of Beau Biden

The Vice President's elder son, Beau, died at 46 after battling brain cancer

Beau Biden, a former Delaware Attorney General and the elder son of Vice President Joe Biden, died at 46 following a battle with brain cancer, the Vice President’s office announced Saturday.

An Iraq War veteran and recipient of the Bronze Star, Beau was remembered in a statement for his professional accomplishments and as a family man. “Beau measured himself as a husband, father, son and brother,” the Vice President said. “His absolute honor made him a role model for our family.”

The younger Biden opted against running for reelection in 2014 but had been seen as a likely contender for the Delaware governorship in 2016.

He had suffered a stroke in 2010 and, in 2013, was admitted to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. He is survived by his wife, Hallie, and his children, Natalie and Hunter.

TIME Behind the Photos

See the Most Dramatic Rescue From the Nepal Earthquake

A man was pulled from the rubble alive in Kathmandu after a 7.8-magnitude quake struck on Saturday

Photojournalist Narendra Shrestha was at home on Saturday when he felt the tremors of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck central Nepal, killing more than 1130 people.

“I thought I was going to die,” Shrestha tells TIME. “It was horrifying. How did I get out of this? This is my lucky day.”

As soon as the tremors began, his daughter started crying—she did not want him to leave their newly built home, which was left intact. But, Shrestha said to himself, “I should capture this. This is my job”

Shrestha, 40, a staff photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency based in Kathmandu, has worked in the region and across the world for 17 years.

Shrestha was stunned by the devastation after the quake. “Everybody is in shock,” he said.

Not far from his home in Thamel, the main tourist hub in Kathmandu, he came across a hotel under construction. An old home next to the hotel had collapsed, trapping an undetermined number of people. Shrestha estimated 40 construction workers were on site, actively searching for people who were trapped, when they found a man.

“All you could see was his head,” he said. “The rest of his body was buried.”

As they worked to uncover him it was apparent he was still alive.

With dust still in the air and a flurry of rescue workers and volunteers scrambling to find survivors, Shrestha captured the scenes of chaos before returning to his office to transmit his photos, as aftershocks continued to be felt across the region.

Shrestha also checked on his father—who has lived through numerous earthquakes. “He’s never seen anything like this,” he said

As night approached in Kathmandu, people were still in shock, he added. “Nobody is going to sleep in their homes tonight. I’m going to move my family outside. I’m just grateful my family is OK.”

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