A mission to the International Space Station returned to Earth today after
successfully delivering a new ‘lifeboat’ to the Station for use by the
resident crew in the event of an emergency on board.

The cosmopolitan crew of the Marco Polo flight comprised ESA’s Italian
astronaut Roberto Vittori, Russian mission commander, Yuri Gidzenko, and
flight participant Mark Shuttleworth.

The Marco Polo crew safely descended to Earth in a Soyuz capsule, ending a
10-day mission with a textbook landing on the plains Kazakhstan at 10h55
local (04:55 GMT).

Vittori, a former Italian Air Force test pilot, described his maiden
voyage into space as “the most exciting and challenging experience of my

He is the third European astronaut to visit the Space Station in a year
and, during his eight-day stay, worked alongside the resident crew –
Expedition Four commander Yuri Onufrienko and flight engineers Dan Bursch
and Carl Walz – overseeing four European scientific experiments.

These examined the forces involved in moving around in microgravity and
the effects on humans of cosmic particles during long missions, assessed
newly developed clothing, and tested a non-intrusive blood pressure
monitoring device.

“Europe is playing a major part in the development of the Space Station,
and in 2004 ESA’s Columbus module will be added to the orbiting complex,
giving Europe its own laboratory for technology, science and application
experiments. These early missions are therefore vital in terms of gaining
first-hand experience,” said Vittori.

Marco Polo – following the equally successful Andromëde mission last
October with ESA’s French astronaut Claudie Haignerè – is the latest in a
series of European manned missions to the Space Station.

Belgian ESA astronaut Frank De Winne has already started training for a
similar ‘taxi’ mission in October and Sweden’s first astronaut Christer
Fuglesang will be on the Space Shuttle for an important assembly flight
next spring.

For further information, please contact:

ESA Media Relations Office

Tel: +33.(0)1.5369.7155

Fax: +33.(0)1.5369.7690

ASI Press Office

Tel: +39 06 8567 235

Fax. +39 06 8416 265