Last week, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti broke the world record for the most time a woman spent in space on a single mission: 200 days. From her post on the International Space Station she conducted space walks, supported her team on their sorties, was responsible for cargo and helped grab and dock ferries with the station’s robotic arm.

While outside of Earth’s atmosphere, Cristoforetti also Tweeted, gave Facebook updates and created YouTube videos on both whimsical and informational subjects, becoming somewhat of an online celebrity.

I first heard of this multilingual astronaut when NPR broadcast a recording of her reciting “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” from outer space—a selection suggested by her social media followers.

I was so mesmerized by her reading (lovely accent, dreamlike presentation) that I stopped everything I was doing to listen. After reciting the nursery rhyme we all know, she then transitioned into the words of Iza Trapani, from her children’s book “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”:

Little Child, your wish came true,
Here I am right next to you
I’ll take you on a magic ride,
So come with me—I’ll be your guide.
There’s so much you’ll see and do,
On this adventure made for you.

Out your window, through the sky,
Up above the world we’ll fly.
Higher than a bird will go,
To places only rockets know.
Beyond the planes that soar up high,
Is where we’ll travel, you and I.

Look around you, little one,
There’s the moon and there’s the sun.
See the planets-count them all,
Some are big and some are small.
Can you name them one by one,
As they orbit ’round the sun?

The beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a curious young heroine who wishes upon a mischievous, twinkling star. Granting her wish, the little star takes her on a dazzling journey through the swirling, iridescent lights of the night sky.

Author-illustrator Iza Trapani was born in Poland, and spoke only Polish when she came to the United States at the age of seven. Her relatives gave her a big book of Mother Goose nursery rhymes and she began to learn English as she read the poems. 

So here we have an Italian astronaut—in space—reading a Polish woman’s version of an English lullaby, first published over two centuries ago, that is also featured on a Children’s Fairyland storybook box in Oakland, California. Such is the power of the humble nursery rhyme.

Working at Fairyland, I’ve come to appreciate the value of nursery rhymes. Rhyme and repetition is good for the brain, introducing literacy to kids. Nursery rhymes link cultures and generations: they are shared rituals. But perhaps most important of all, they are fun to say and hear. It was only a matter of time before they went galactic.

Do yourself a favor and watch the astronaut’s recital on YouTube.

I like to think that her goodnight from space might inspire little girls to dream of bigger things—maybe even science-y things.

Samantha landed safely back on earth, in Kazakhstan, on June 11. But before she left outer space, this is what she wrote on her Facebook page: “Addio, e grazie per tutto il pesce!”

Which means “So long, and thanks for all the fish!”

I think I’ve found a new hero—another fascinating hitchhiker in the galaxy.

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