First the comparisons. Paolo and I both grew up in the 1960s harbouring dreams that we might one day fly in space. And we both got keen on photography from an early age too.
I went on to write about space, interviewing guys like Nespoli and editing a magazine called Spaceflight. He joined the Italian Air Force and became one of ESA’s astronauts, flying to the Space Station in 2007 and then again at the end of 2010, this time for a six month stay.
Both of us continue on our photographic quest - me from down here and Paolo from his temporary home 200 miles high. During his recent, and probably last, trip into orbit he enthusiastically photographed his view of Earth, downloading an impressive 667 images and capturing many more stunning views.
But on his way home, just after his Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station at the end of May, Paolo had one final very special job to do - capture unique images of the orbiting outpost with both the Shuttle and Europe’s ATV ferry attached. His spacecraft stopped about 200 metres away and the Station tilted to present a better view.
Paolo took his photos through a small window in the Soyuz orbital module before returning to his seat in the descent module alongside crewmates Dmitri Kondratyev and Catherine Coleman for the landing.
"This was a complex and delicate manoeuvre that could have caused serious problems if not executed properly, but I felt it was worth the risk," says Paolo, who had only few seconds to admire the view for himself.
"Taking these pictures was not as straightforward as aiming the camera and shooting," he explained.
"When we undocked, we were already strapped in our seats wearing spacesuits. Our suits and the three hatches between the landing and orbital modules were leak-checked and normally after undocking the seals are not broken any more because retesting them costs oxygen – and there is not so much of it onboard."
The problem for Paolo was that the tiny window where the pictures needed to be taken was in the orbital module – already then partly depressurised.
He had to remove his gloves, unstrap from his seat, float to the hatch, repressurise the forward module and open the hatch.