What I’ve Learned: The Astronaut

Luca Parmitano talks the view from space, Italian space food, and facing death in orbit

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Luca Parmitano is a Major and pilot in the Italian Air Force and an astronaut for the European Space Agency.

During his first mission aboard the International Space Station, for six months in 2013, he became the first Italian to undertake a “spacewalk” (stepping outside the station with only a spacesuit for protection). One and a half hours into his first spacewalk, Parmitano almost died when his helmet malfunctioned and began filling up with cooling water.

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Esquire spoke to Luca (safely back on Earth) about surviving in a vacuum, training to be the best and Italian space food.


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When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut but I didn’t think I could actually do it. I chose the path of life that I thought would make me happy. I went to the air force academy in Italy and became a fighter pilot, then I was selected to become a test-pilot. Without knowing I was really building up my career to get closer to the dream of being an astronaut.

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50 years ago astronauts needed to be excellent at one specific thing. When we were selected in 2008 it was to fly into space and stay there for six months, so I think they were looking at things like our capabilities to be social and to be leaders and followers at the same time.

If you really want to be in space you need to lift weights because you’ll do a lot of that in orbit, but you also need to be a cyclist and a runner because you need to keep your cardio capabilities on good form.

I had to learn Russian and learn how to fly a spacecraft. I had to learn how to scuba dive inside a space suit in case of emergency landings in water. Those things aren’t easy but it made it more fascinating.

I’m military and I have friends who go to very dangerous places without complaining and without the glory of being an astronaut. I think I lost the right to complain when I became an astronaut.

Apollo 13 is the most accurate sci-fi film I’ve seen. It’s almost a documentary. It’s so well done and really portrays the training.

I’m Italian, but I’m a terrible cook and the food I found in space was better than anything I could come up with. I had some special space food that was made in Italy and sharing it with my crewmates was one of the nicest evenings we had. 

Stepping out into space you can see everything, the moon, the stars, but the most beautiful view is certainly the Earth. I came out and the Earth was illuminated by the sunset over Africa. It took my breath away.

I almost died when my space suit failed. There was a mechanical failure in the life-support system and it began leaking cooling water into my helmet. My training as a pilot gave me the knowledge to think of the solution to the situation, rather than focusing on the problem. I was told to head back inside the station and when I reached the airlock I knew I was going to survive, even if I passed out.

Live from Space Series is out now to own on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD through Universal Pictures


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MORE WHAT I'VE LEARNED:

The Deep Sea Diver
A Day In The Life Of An Astronaut
The Lion Trainer
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