Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut and commander of the International Space Station, tweeted a warm “shalom” to Israel on Saturday along with views of the city lights of Tel Aviv and Haifa as well as a few pictures of the Dead Sea shot from the orbiting facility.
“Good evening, Israel, and good evening to Tel Aviv and Haifa. I found these straight lines at the southern end of the Dead Sea to be intriguing as well; it turns out they are a complex of Jordanian salt evaporation ponds, she wrote in her piece.
In a ceremony that was live streamed from space on Wednesday, Cristoforetti, 45, became the first European woman to assume command of the International Space Station (ISS) this week.
Russian cosmonaut and outgoing commander Oleg Artemyev said, “Despite the storms on Earth, our international collaboration continues,” in what appeared to be a rare space-bound remark to the conflict in Ukraine.
Cristoforetti received a golden key from Artemyev, signifying her appointment as the new commander of the space station until her return to Earth on October 10.
After spending 199 days in orbit in 2014 and 2015, she holds the record for the longest space stay by a woman.
She is the fifth female commander since the position was established in 2000, and the first non-American woman.
All duties carried out by the crew aboard the space station, which orbits more than 400 kilometres (248 miles) above Earth, are under the control of the ISS commander.
The commander has the authority to decide in an emergency without awaiting orders from ground control. The commander is responsible for making sure that the crew’s lives are rescued first in the three emergency scenarios of fire, depressurization, and the discovery of a hazardous atmosphere.
According to former ISS commander and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, it is “like being on a boat – there is only master onboard after God.”
The five space organisations involved in the station—NASA, Canada’s CSA, Japan’s JAXA, Russia’s Roscosmos—jointly decide who would serve as commander.
Artemyev commended the efforts of all 10 crew members—four Americans, five Russians, and Cristoforetti—during the handover ceremony.
He stated that he saw the ISS as “a continuation of the Apollo-Soyuz programme,” which was the first joint crewed international space mission that the US and the Soviet Union launched in 1975 during the Cold War.
When asked about Ukraine specifically, Artemyev stated that it was a time “when the connection between the countries was also not simple, when there were those who found the route which leads to peace, and the way that conflict ends everywhere.”
Cristoforetti, for her part, lauded the efforts of the other members of the crew, adding that they are all “a tiny part of the vast team on the ground” that oversees the space station’s operations.
Since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the space station—long a symbol of stronger relations between Russia and the United States since the Cold War—has faced challenges.
The ISS has been one of the final areas of collaboration between Russia and the West, and Moscow reacted angrily to the unprecedented sanctions imposed over the war.