Somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, numerous irregularly-shaped bodies called asteroids form a circumstellar disk called the Main Belt. In 2008, the International Astronomical Union assigned the name ‘’dipippo’’ to asteroid 21887, one of the occupants of the Main Belt, in recognition of my efforts in space exploration. It remains a great honour for me – and it is awesome to think of myself orbiting around the Sun!
In my youth, embarking on a career in space exploration was not a traditional route for women. But I have always known that I wanted to have a job that would allow me to continue learning, keep my passion alive and travel – and outer space activities are perfect for that. When the time came to choose a degree, I had no doubts about my choice. I graduated with a Master’s degree in Astrophysics and Space Physics from the Sapienza Università di Roma in 1984. Since then, I have spent my career in different areas of the space sector for both national and international space programmes. I have managed astronauts, worked in earth observation, sent probes to outer space for scientific exploration, and conceived and executed experiments in microgravity conditions.
I joined the Italian Space Agency (ASI) in 1986 and I had a range of different responsibilities, including earth observation, automation and robotics, science and human spaceflight. From 2002 to 2008, I served as the Director of the Observation of the Universe at ASI then joined the European Space Agency (ESA) as Director of Human Spaceflight. In 2011, I returned to ASI to lead the European Space Policy Observatory at ASI-Brussels. I was selected on the basis of a competitive process and appointed to my current position, Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), in March 2014.
As Director of UNOOSA, I have been asked to travel to many countries and to meet with a diverse selection of people. UNOOSA works to build indigenous capacities in space technologies and applications, especially in developing countries, and I’m proud and honoured to contribute to laying the foundation for developing countries to build their own capacity in space-related activities. Each and every individual on our planet can benefit from space activities in a sustainable manner. Space activities have an impact on the socio-economic growth of a given country, and it is a tool for diplomacy. That’s the reason why I like to categorize what we do at UNOOSA through space economy, space society, space accessibility and space diplomacy.
I have long been an advocate for the use of space research and technology as a tool for sustainable development on Earth. This means that space should be promoted as a resource for the benefit of all, whether living in a spacefaring nation or not. Through UNOOSA’s mandate, I have the opportunity to follow this belief and to promote space and its applications in all its forms. My inspiration comes from the clear and tangible outputs of the use of space research, technology and applications for the improvement of the quality of life on Earth. For example, space-based technology and applications are used to gather information which can help us understand global water cycles, map water courses, and monitor and mitigate the effects of floods and droughts.
After having spent close to thirty years conceiving and developing space missions in international cooperation, I feel that the United Nations is the right place to be. My job makes me happy every day. I constantly learn something new, meet very interesting people, have friends all over the world, and travel a lot – and I’m still enjoying every aspect of it. Participation in the aerospace sector by itself gives me a feeling of fulfilment and pride in human achievements. It gives me a unique angle on humanity, allowing me to detach myself from the daily routine and to think about the world as a whole, understanding our hyper connectivity and interdependence.