ISS EXPEDITION 26/27
After two years of ceaseless training between StarCity, Houston, Canada, Japan and a number of European sites, on December 15, 2010, Soyuz TMA-20 was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome to the ISS. In his role of Flight Engineer (FE), Paolo was tasked with assisting the commander of the spaceship in all phases of launch, approach, docking and re-entry, and to react in case of malfunction, up to taking manual control of the vehicle in the event of unavailability of the commander.
The launch and the entry into orbit took place without any problems and the spacecraft, following the procedures for approaching the station in use at the time, began the first of the 32 orbits it would complete before docking with the ISS, 49 hours after the launch. Periodically, when the spacecraft flew over the territory of Russia, fast radio links were established with the control center in Moscow. During this phase there were communication problems due to an incorrect configuration of the system on the ground and the spacecraft remained isolated, without communications, for several hours. Soyuz TMA-20 automatically docked with the station on December 17, 2010 and remained there until May 23, 2011, when it undocked from the ISS, for landing back on Earth. In the 157 days spent on the ISS Paolo carried out the typical tasks of a Flight Engineer, such as ordinary and extraordinary maintenance of the station, loading and unloading of resupply vehicles, support to the operations of the crews on the ISS, performance of experiments and of technical and scientific education activities, liaising with the press, and having video links with the institutions. Apart from a false alarm of atmospheric contamination, there were no serious malfunctions during the entire mission and it was not necessary to carry out emergency space walks. During the complex mission, several vehicles docked with and undocked from the station: 2 Space Shuttles (STS-133 and STS-134); 2 Soyuz spacecraft (TMA-01M, TMA-21); 4 resupply vehicles (ESA ATV2, JAXA HTV 2, RSA Progress M-09M, RSA Progress M-10M). Furthermore, six nominal spacewalks were performed: 2 Russian EVAs and 4 American EVAs.
At the moment of undocking from the station, an additional orbit was added to carry out a manoeuvre that had never been done before: photographing and filming the station connected with the Space Shuttle and to the European and Japanese resupply vehicles. Paolo was the crew member who acted as a photographer, while the Russian commander of the Soyuz manually kept the vehicle at the correct distance and altitude. Once the manoeuvre was completed, the Soyuz returned to Earth with a "soft landing" in the steppe of Kazakhstan. The landing took place on 24 May after 159 days, 7 hours, and 17 minutes.