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Space station commander snaps nighttime photos of Israeli city lights

Italian astronaut sends warm ‘shalom’ to Jewish state alongside images of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Dead Sea taken aboard orbiting installation

An image of Tel Aviv's city lights at night taken from the International Space Station by Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. (Samantha Cristoforetti/ISS via Twitter)
An image of Tel Aviv's city lights at night taken from the International Space Station by Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. (Samantha Cristoforetti/ISS via Twitter)

Italian astronaut and International Space Station commander Samantha Cristoforetti sent a warm “shalom” to Israel from space on Saturday in a tweet that was accompanied by photos of Tel Aviv’s and Haifa’s city lights and a few images of the Dead Sea taken from the orbiting installation.

“Shalom and hello to Israel and the cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv at night. I was also intrigued by these straight lines at the southern end of the Dead Sea – turns out it’s a complex of Jordanian salt evaporation ponds!” she posted.

Cristoforetti, 45, became the first European woman to take command of the International Space Station (ISS) this week in a ceremony broadcast live from space on Wednesday.

The outgoing commander, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, used the occasion to seemingly make a rare space-bound reference to the war in Ukraine, saying that “despite the storms on Earth, our international cooperation continues.”

Artemyev handed Cristoforetti a golden key, symbolizing that she is the new commander of the space station until she returns to Earth on October 10.

Cristoforetti, a European Space Agency astronaut and former Italian air force pilot, arrived for her second tour on the ISS in April.

She holds the record for the longest stay in space by a woman after spending 199 days in orbit in 2014 and 2015.

She is the fifth woman — and the first non-US woman — to become commander since the role was created in 2000.

The ISS commander is responsible for all tasks performed by the crew members onboard the space station, which orbits more than 400 kilometers (248 miles) above Earth.

During an emergency, the commander has the authority to make decisions without waiting for instructions from ground control. In the event of a fire, depressurization, or the detection of a toxic atmosphere — the three defined emergency scenarios — it is up to the commander to ensure that the lives of the crew are saved first.

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) takes a picture with family members during the Crew-4 walk out at the Neil-A-Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building en route to launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, April 27, 2022. (Gregg Newton/AFP)

French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who has served as ISS commander, said last year that it is “like being on a boat — there is only master onboard after God.”

The decision of who becomes commander is made jointly by the five space agencies involved in the station: NASA, Russia’s Roscosmos, Europe’s ESA, Canada’s CSA, and Japan’s JAXA.

During the handover ceremony, Artemyev praised the work of all 10 people onboard the space station — four Americans, five Russians, and Cristoforetti.

He said he viewed the ISS as “a continuation of the Apollo–Soyuz program,” the first crewed international space mission carried out jointly by the United States and Soviet Union in 1975 in the midst of the Cold War.

That was a time “when the relationship between the countries was also not simple, when there were people who found the way which leads to peace, and the way that war ends everywhere,” Artemyev said, not mentioning Ukraine by name.

In this Nov. 8, 2021 file photo provided by NASA, the International Space Station is pictured from the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour. (NASA via AP, File)

For her part, Cristoforetti praised the work of her fellow crew, saying they all form “a tiny part of the gigantic team on the ground” which manages the operations of the space station.

The space station, long a symbol of closer post-Cold War ties between Russia and the United States, has been in a difficult position since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February.

Moscow responded with outrage at unprecedented sanctions over the war and the ISS has been one of the last remaining areas of cooperation between Russia and the West.

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