Touchdown: Poly alum completes his first space mission

The Discovery shuttle delivered two-time Poly graduate Paolo Nespoli back to earth on Wednesday. Nespoli and his fellow crewmembers had spent the previous 15 days completing some of the most complex and daring International Space Station (ISS) construction in the nine-year history of the ISS orbital assembly.

As they left for the ISS, the astronauts knew that mission STS-120 would be a challenging one that included installing Harmony Node 2, a new module that will allow the addition of European and Japanese space laboratories. On the eighth day of the mission, an unexpected task arose when one of the station’s solar wings ripped. Perched on the end of a 90-foot extension beam, Scott Parazynski successfully repaired the wing during an unprecedented spacewalk.

At a press conference following the exceptionally smooth landing, crewmembers and NASA officials heralded the mission’s many successes.

STS-120 was the 23rd shuttle flight to the ISS and the first for Poly’s Nespoli who was assigned as mission specialist in June 2006. Born in Milan, Italy, Nespoli came to Poly after serving eight years in the Italian army. With credits carried over from high school and concentrated summer courses, he earned a bachelor’s (’88) and master’s (’89) degree in aerospace engineering in only four years. Following graduation, Nespoli returned to Italy to work as a design engineer. During this time, he volunteered for the European Space Agency (ESA) as a test subject in a simulated space station. He later joined ESA’s Astronaut Training division, and was dispatched to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where he worked on the preparation of training for the future crews of the ISS.

In 1998, Nespoli followed his dream to become an astronaut and underwent seven months of rigorous exams. His hard work paid off when the Italian Space Agency selected him out of 500 candidates to be an astronaut.