Cristoforetti becomes the first European to command the ISS

Italian Samantha Cristoforetti became the first European to assume command of the International Space Station on Wednesday during a ceremony broadcast live from space.

The outgoing commander, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, took the opportunity to make what appears to be a rare space-based reference to the war in Ukraine, saying that “despite the storms on Earth, our international cooperation continues.”

During a relaxed ceremony, Artemyev presented Cristoforetti with a golden key, symbolizing that she is the new space station commander until her return to Earth on October 10.

Cristoforetti, a 45-year-old European Space Agency astronaut and former Italian Air Force pilot, arrived on the ISS in April for her second tour.

She holds the record for the longest stay in space by a woman, having spent 199 days in orbit in 2014 and 2015.

She is the fifth woman — and the first non-US woman — to become commander since the role was created in 2000.

The space station, long a symbol of closer post-Cold War relations between Russia and the United States, has been in a difficult position since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February.

Moscow has reacted with outrage to unprecedented sanctions over the war, and the ISS has been one of the last remaining areas of cooperation between Russia and the West.

– Echoes of War in Space –

Artemyev praised the work of all 10 people on board the space station – four Americans, five Russians and Cristoforetti.

He said he sees the ISS as “a continuation of the Apollo-Soyuz program,” the first manned international space mission undertaken jointly by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1975 amid the Cold War.

That was a time “when relations between countries were not easy either, when there were people who found the way that leads to peace and the way that wars end everywhere,” Artemyev said, not including Ukraine to be named.

For her part, Cristoforetti praised the work of her colleagues, saying they are all “a tiny part of the gigantic team on the ground” that directs the space station’s operations.

The commander is responsible for all crew duties aboard the space station, which orbits more than 400 kilometers above the earth.

During an emergency, the commander has the authority to make decisions without waiting for instructions from ground control.

In the event of fire, depressurization or the detection of a toxic atmosphere – the three defined emergency scenarios – it is up to the commander to ensure that the life of the crew is saved first.

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who has served as ISS commander, said last year it was “like being on a boat – there is only one master on board after God”.

The decision on who will be commander is made jointly by the five space agencies involved in the station: NASA, Russia’s Roscosmos, Europe’s ESA, Canada’s CSA and Japan’s JAXA.