A scientific and technological value achieved by the Cnr pilot and researcher Pantaleone Carlucci with the Virtute 1 mission which, last June, marked the first suborbital human flight of the Italian Air Force on Virgin Galactic’s Spaceeship-2 spacecraft. “Having verified and tested the suitability of these new commercial platforms with the integration of scientific instrumentation – in a similar way to what is done in the laboratory or on ships, mobile vehicles or airplanes – opens the way to a new frontier” he underlines at the Adnkronos Pantaleone Carlucci, co-investigator of the Liulin CNR VG and Doosy experiments, and who took part in the mission together with Walter Villadei and Angelo Landolfi, both Air Force officers.

The new frontier opened with this mission, explains Carlucci, “in the future will allow researchers to be able to operate even at mesospheric altitudes, in environments that are almost unknown today, as well as having laboratories capable of guaranteeing a microgravity of several minutes and the possibility of operating directly your own on-board instrumentation” explains Carlucci. The researcher also reports that “the information acquired will provide useful data not only for scientific research, but also for the technological and medical sectors: experiments have been conducted that aim to study the effects of microgravity on a wide variety of physical and chemical properties of materials (combustion phenomena or behavior of fluids), characterizing the flight environment (for example from the point of view of on-board radiation)”. “From the results of the experiments – he observes – it will be possible to obtain valuable information for future application in a vast range of fields, from training and operations to possible innovative uses in the industrial sector”.

Carlucci – energy engineer, pilot and who completed a master’s degree in Information Science for Security at the eCampus University – highlights that in the Virtute 1 mission his “technical training”, also carried out in a university like eCampus where he carried out various courses, “has had a significant impact on the evolution of the activities I have carried out during my career at the Cnr, especially combined with the piloting experience that I have carried out with passion”. “The two things – he highlights – came together and led me to live very educational and very different experiences, from environmental monitoring on landfills to suborbital flight with Virgin Galactic”. “In eCampus – he continues – I took several courses, I met many capable and talented people and professors. I know the Rector Enzo Siviero well: he is a person of enormous importance”.

Regarding the relationship with Virgin Galactic and possible other suborbital flights, Carlucci explains that “personally, the experience of suborbital flight gave me the opportunity to continue direct interaction with Virgin by participating in the Master Classes with the crews of the Galactic 2 and Galactic 3 and hypothesizing future joint activities”. “The interest in our ‘first’ experience was very important and the fact of having been contacted by some of the most important research bodies in the world – which operate in the space and aerospace sector – to have information on our experience, makes me think that this will certainly not remain unique but there will be other similar experiences.”

For over 8 years at the Cnr, Carlucci has carried out engineering activities for scientific instrumentation on aerial platforms, with particular attention to the remote control of acquired data; support for the creation of payloads; Coordinator – Flight Engineer/Pilot in flight activities of Cnr aircraft. Not only. The pilot is also responsible for the technical coordination of strategic projects on stratospheric platforms and air launch and is part of several coordination committees established under framework agreements that the Cnr has signed with companies operating in the space and aerospace sector.

In short, an impressive CV, but what are the differences between his role as a pilot and that of an astronaut? “I am an energy engineer and – explains Carlucci – in recent years I have been involved in airborne research in various projects that we have coordinated as Cnr. I have carried out both the role of pilot – having a pilot’s license and several years’ flight experience in campaigns of measurements – is an on-board engineer developing, integrating and certifying (EASA\ENAC certifications) the various instruments on the Cnr’s aerial platforms”. “I cannot talk about differences between the role of pilot and the role of astronaut because, in relation to the role of astronaut, not having received specific training, my assessment would be incongruous” he states. “As regards my role as payload specialist in the Galactic 1 mission, my approach was the same as I always had in my research flight activities” he adds.

The future belongs to children but what advice would you give to young people who want to follow in your footsteps, or become astronauts or, in the future, manage suborbital flights and how do you see ‘space tourism’? Carlucci has no doubts: “I would recommend studying and deepening whatever you are passionate about because the possibility of accessing space must not be seen as the final objective, but simply as the means to bring to fruition and enhance our specific skills, in any sector they are”. “As a technician – continues Pantaleone Carlucci – I see space tourism as an opportunity, given that the ambition and investment capacity that commercial operators have allow, in a short time, to have platforms ready to be used for different purposes from tourism, exactly what happened with the Virtute-1 flight”.

But what did you feel in your suborbital launch and what Cnr experiments did you manage and have you ever thought about becoming an astronaut? “I have always been passionate about flying. For the Cnr – recalls Carlucci – I managed the aerial platforms because I have always believed that doing research must allow the exploitation of any observation platform”. “For me – he assures – it was a fantastic experience, a special event that came to fruition after teamwork that lasted two years. The integration of the instrumentation on a spaceplane is an extremely complex activity. Being able to complete the mission is a reason of great satisfaction for all the entities involved”.

“I managed a system to test the effect of microgravity on innovative materials and processes for space use, a system to measure cosmic radiation in the mesosphere and performed a test to evaluate cognitive conditions during space flight” he adds. But will he ever become an astronaut? “In all sincerity, it has never been my primary objective, simply because the goal is to be able to always push ourselves further in terms of potential and areas of research, not to overcome a predefined spatial ‘boundary'” he cuts short.