Mother dies as Italian astronaut son is in orbit

2011-05-03 14:39

Milan – The mother of Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli, who is in orbit on the International Space Station, has died in her hometown near Milan, officials said today.

Maria Motta died following an illness at her home yesterday evening. She was 78.

Verano Brianza Mayor Renato Casati told the Associated Press that family members have been in touch with Nespoli, who arrived on the space station in December for a six-month stint.

Nespoli, along with an American and a Russian, are scheduled to return to Earth in three more weeks.

“Even if he was prepared for this possibility – he knew about his mother’s health problems – it is painful not to be able to be near her at the last moments,” Casati said.

This is the second time that Nespoli’s space missions have been clouded by the death of a parent. His father, a banker, died in 2007, shortly before Nespoli launched his first space mission.

“Paolo said: ‘We have been waiting so long for this, and my father didn’t make it to see it,“’ Casati recalled.

Casati said Nespoli’s wife and young daughter had travelled back from Houston to be with his mother.

Motta is also survived by three other children.

“She was proud of all her children, not just one,” Casati said.

Family members in the town of Verano Brianza, some 20km north of Milan, have been able to stay in touch with Nespoli with a video system set up in his mother’s home by the European Space Agency, the mayor said.

A funeral service will be held tomorrow.

Officials at the European Space Agency said that in such an instance it might be possible to set up a satellite hookup so the absent astronaut could participate in the services. However, Casati said he did not know if it would be technically feasible in time.

Such family tragedies have befallen astronauts in the past.

US astronaut Daniel Tani’s mother was killed in an accident while he was living on the space station in 2007.

And former space station commander Scott Kelly was on the space station when his sister-in-law, Republican Gabrielle Giffords, was shot on January 8.

Giffords’ husband, Endeavor commander Mark Kelly, is preparing to leave on the next shuttle launch, which has been delayed until early next week. That shuttle will also carry Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori to the space station.

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