Two-time Poly graduate Paolo Nespoli blasted off for the International Space Station at 11:38 a.m. Tuesday. The Discovery space shuttle will take Nespoli and six fellow astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on a two-week mission considered the most involved in the nine-year history of the ISS orbital assembly.
The STS-120 crew will deliver and install Harmony Node 2, a new module that will allow the addition of European and Japanese space laboratories. The crew will also oversee two astronauts switch places as one takes up residence on the ISS and another leaves after a five-month stay.
Tuesday morning’s launch was incredibly smooth. Forecasted rain held off and concern about ice buildup between Discovery and an external fuel tank subsided when NASA deemed the ice patch unthreatening. Discovery’s on-schedule liftoff is especially important as space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled for a trip to the ISS on December 6. When Discovery returns to Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility on November 6, preparations will begin immediately for the Atlantis launch.
STS-120 is the 23rd shuttle flight to the ISS and the first for Poly’s Nespoli who was assigned as mission specialist in June 2006. Born in Milan, Italy, Nespoli came to Poly after serving eight years in the Italian army. With credits carried over from high school and concentrated summer courses, he earned a bachelor’s (’88) and master’s (’89) degree in aerospace engineering in only four years. Following graduation, Nespoli returned to Italy to work as a design engineer. During this time, he volunteered for the European Space Agency (ESA) as a test subject in a simulated space station. He later joined ESA’s Astronaut Training division, and was dispatched to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas where he worked on the preparation of training for the future crews of the ISS.
In 1998, Nespoli followed his dream to become an astronaut and underwent seven months of rigorous exams. His hard work paid off when the Italian Space Agency selected him out of 500 candidates to be an astronaut.