Meeting the real astronauts… what an emotional and moving experience!

Above: Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli (left) was funny and wonderfully engaging at yesterday’s event. To hear him jokingly utter the words, “Houston, we have a problem,” took the iconic phrase into a whole realm of meaning. He is one badass dude and super nice.

All of our social media friends and anyone who’s ever visited our family here in Houston know that our daughters Georgia P and Lila Jane (ages 5 and 3) love “the real astronauts.”

Our monthly (and sometimes weekly) trips to the Johnson Space Center visitors center, about 40 minutes south from where we live, are always filled with marvel, joy, and learning: not only does the center host a wide range of interactive exhibits and media, but its guided tours allow you to see where the current astronauts are doing their training, not to mention the historic mission control and other artifacts from space exploration.

These are no mere museum pieces! In Parzen family parlance, these are the real astronauts!

Yesterday, thanks to my consulting work with Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas (the IACC, headquartered in Houston), I had the unique opportunity to meet the next astronauts headed to space.

What an incredible and incredibly emotional experience to shake the hands of these brave men and the team that will guide them on their mission! These affable, funny, and down-to-earth guys are going to the International Space Station in July aboard a Russian Soyuz.

And while the event was entirely free of any and all politicization or international intrigue, everyone in the room was acutely aware of the fact that the station represents “the greatest achievement in international cooperation” in humankind’s history, as one of the mission directors put it.

I’ve met all kinds of celebrities in my lifetime and I’m rarely starstruck. But, man, Beyoncé could have walked into the room last night and I wouldn’t even have noticed her.

G-d bless these courageous women and men. We owe them our greatest gratitude for all that they do to further the human cause and better the human condition.

Click here for my write-up of the event on the IACC website.

Below, from left, clockwise, space-bound astronauts with Italian officials: Paolo Nespoli (Italy), IACC Executive Director Alessia Paolicchi, IACC President Brando Ballerini, Sergei Ryazanzky (Russia), Randy Bresnik (USA), Italian Consul General Elena Sgarbi, Alexander Misurkin (Russia), Joe Acaba (USA), and Mark Vande Hei (USA).

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