Next destination – space

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Luca Parmitano left for Baikonur, Kazakhstan today, his last stop before heading to the International Space Station on 28 May.

His launch on a Soyuz rocket will be the culmination of more than two years of preparation that has seen Luca training in Russia, Canada, Japan, Europe and the US at facilities of the Station partners.

Luca and his crewmates, cosmonaut commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, spent the last few weeks in Moscow, Russia passing their final exams for flying the Soyuz spacecraft. They received their official tickets to the Space Station on 10 May when the Soyuz examination board declared them qualified to fly.

The trip from Moscow to Baikonur is more than 2000 km, roughly five times the distance to their next home in space. Luca’s Soyuz will arrive at the orbital outpost in under seven hours – only two hours longer than today’s plane journey to the launch site.

The crew will stay at the traditional Cosmonaut Hotel for the last days before launch. Luca, Fyodor and Karen will be quarantined to make sure they do not take any unwanted bacteria or viruses to the Space Station. Family and support personnel such as flight surgeons will be the only people allowed to stay with them.

Cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov, Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy are already on the Station and will welcome the new Expedition when the Soyuz docks on 29 May.

Luca’s Volare mission is provided through an agreement with Italy’s ASI space agency. His busy schedule of science and maintenance involves two spacewalks to install new equipment and retrieve experiments.

Watch the launch live on 28 May from 20:00 GMT (22:00 CEST) and follow the Volare blog for updates from the mission directors and Luca himself.