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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Profile: Space station's first European astronaut
European astronaut Umberto Guidoni in training, Nasa picture
Umberto Guidoni in training
Dr Umberto Guidoni, set to become the first European astronaut on the International Space Station, last flew on board a space shuttle in 1996.

"Nothing on Earth can ever fully prepare you for the incredible experience of lift off," he said later.

"Seconds before the launch it is hard to imagine you are in a real shuttle. The control panel is so similar to the simulator that it is only after lift-off that you really become aware that it is for real.

"The shaking and vibration is more dramatic than you can ever imagine and then, once you get into orbit and start to feel the sensations of floating, you realise you've really left the planet. As for the views, they are truly breathtaking," he said.

Lost satellite

Dr Guidoni was a payload specialist aboard Space Shuttle Columbia on a mission which caused a few headaches.

Dr Umberto Guidoni, Nasa picture
Dr Guidoni will be the first European astronaut to board the ISS
The STS-75 mission took a satellite into orbit and released it on the end of a 21-kilometre (13-mile) wire in a second attempt to study how passing a conductor wire through the Earth's magnetic field would generate electricity.

Dr Guidoni and his colleagues had the device generating 3,500 volts at up to 500 milliamps before the wire snapped and the satellite floated off into space.

The mission was more successful than the previous flight of the Tethered Satellite System, in 1992, when the wire jammed after a few dozen metres and the satellite could not be extended.

'Moving van'

This time around, on board Endeavour, he is responsible for the Italian-built Raffaello module, described by Nasa as a four-tonne "space-age moving van".

The Raffaello module will be lifted out of Endeavour's cargo bay and docked onto the space station's Unity module - the central node of the station.

The reusable module will carry supplies for the Destiny lab, launched in February, and will bring back used equipment and rubbish.

Dr Guidoni will unload and load Raffaello and will be the backup operator for the shuttle's robotic arm.

He will also help his fellow crew members attach a Canadian-built robotic arm to the Destiny lab, ready for future building work.

Not first European

Dr Guidoni will not be the first European to board the space station.

That honour went to cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who entered the Unity module side by side with US astronaut Robert Cabana in May 1999 and switched on the lights.

Sergei Krikalev later went back to the ISS as a member of its first resident crew.

But Dr Guidoni will be the first astronaut and the first European Space Agency crew member to board the platform.

The ESA is offering to forward one e-mail a day from the public to Dr Guidoni while he is in orbit.

He was born on 18 August 1954 in Rome and is married with one child.

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