An exceptional specimen came down to Earth from space on June 11. It is not a meteor or some kind of alien, but fellow human Samantha Cristoforetti, the new record holder for the longest continuous space stay by any woman or by any European Space Agency astronaut.
On June 5, Cristoforetti broke the previous ESA record of 192 days, 18 hours and 58 minutes that Dutch astronaut André Kuipers set in July 2012, according to collectSPACE.com. The following morning at 11:04 a.m. EDT, she added the record for longest continuous space stay by a woman to her résumé as she surpassed the 194 days, 18 hours and 2 minutes that NASA astronaut Sunita "Suni" Williams spent in space back in June 2007.
— NASA (@NASA) June 11, 2015
Breaking these records was by no means part of the plan for Cristoforetti's stay at the International Space Station, where she spent the past 199 days coordinating the docking and undocking of spacecrafts, among other duties. If it weren't for the loss of a Russian cargo craft and resulting delay in her retrieval from the space station, she may not have set either record. Her scheduled return date was May 12, which would have put her total time in orbit at only 170 days.
It would have taken a really major delay to strand Cristoforetti in space long enough to break the overall record for the longest uninterrupted space flight. Soviet-era cosmonaut Valery Polyakov set that record in 1995, logging a whopping 437 days, 17 hours and 58 minutes, collectSPACE.com reports.
Still, Cristoforetti's record-breaking stay in space still provided her with enough time to give us some extraterrestrial cooking lessons ...
... take us on space station tours ...
... and even teach us a few things about physics.
This was Cristoforetti's first space flight, so she still has plenty of time to beat the record for most time spent in space by a female over the course of multiple space flights. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson currently holds that record, with 376 days in space under her belt so far.
Cristoforetti expressed her gratitude for the support she received along the way, particularly from a close group of female friends, in a video she shared shortly before returning to Earth. She also included a message to her new pal Susan Sarandon, with whom she chatted about inspiring girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) while aboard the International Space Station.
"Maybe in the future we can even work together to help spark that passion, that interest in STEM [in girls] and to show that no dream is too big," she said.
Brava, Samantha Cristoforetti!