UK’s newest astronaut graduates from space training

Rosemary Coogan becomes the country’s third astronaut following Helen Sharman, and Tim Peake.

Nina Massey
Monday 22 April 2024 10:15 BST
Rosemary Coogan has graduated from astronaut training with the European Space Agency (ESA/PA)
Rosemary Coogan has graduated from astronaut training with the European Space Agency (ESA/PA) (PA Media)

The UK’s Rosemary Coogan has gained her astronaut wings, graduating from space training as a new European Space Agency (Esa) astronaut.

After completing one year of rigorous basic astronaut training, Ms Coogan, along with Sophie Adenot, Pablo Alvarez Fernandez, Raphael Liegeois, Marco Sieber and Australian Space Agency astronaut candidate Katherine Bennell-Pegg received astronaut certification.

After receiving the certification at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, the astronauts have become eligible for spaceflight.

An astrophysicist with two master’s degrees from Durham University and an astronomy doctorate from Sussex, Ms Coogan was selected to join the Esa’s astronaut training programme in 2022, after beating more than 22,500 applicants.

Born in Northern Ireland, she will become the UK’s third astronaut, following Helen Sharman, who became the first Briton in space in 1989, and Tim Peake, who went to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015.

Basic astronaut training involved honing skills in spacecraft systems, spacewalking, flight engineering, robotics and life support systems, as well as survival and medical training.

They will now move on to the phases of pre-assignment and mission-specific training, paving the way for future missions to the ISS and beyond.

Speaking at the graduation, Ms Coogan said it had been a “long-standing” dream of hers to become an astronaut.

She added: “We are often asked, I think all of us have been asked ‘When was the moment you decided that you wanted to become an astronaut? When was the moment you decided you wanted to do it?’.

“And I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself, and for a lot of us, it really has been something that has always been in our heads.

“Perhaps if we didn’t always know exactly where it was going to lead, exactly how it was going to come to this stage, I personally have always been fascinated in space.

“And now to find out that, as an astronaut, you can go there and you can do this fantastic science and bring that back, it’s everything come together as a dream.”

The astronaut class of 2022 has been dubbed the Hoppers, being given the name from their predecessors – the Shenanigans of Esa’s 2009 class.

The UK Space Agency’s head of space exploration, Libby Jackson, said: “It is absolutely fantastic to see British astronauts a part of the European Space Agency programme.

“We’re a very proud contributor to the European Space Agency, and a strong contributor to the overall human and robotic missions.

“Astronauts are the very visible part of the whole space sector.

“So it’s really important for the UK that our astronauts – Rosemary, John and Meg – they are champions not just for human spaceflight, but for everything that goes on in the UK across space.”

Former Paralympian John McFall is part of a feasibility study to see if he can fly as a disabled astronaut, while Meganne Christian is a reserve astronaut who could join the programme if someone else drops out.

For now, all five new European astronauts will be assigned for missions to the International Space Station to carry out scientific experiments.

Until being assigned to their space flight mission and advancing to the next training phases, they will take part in operational tasks within Esa.

They will also undergo refresher training sessions, maintain physical fitness, participate in public relations efforts, and contribute to education and outreach activities.

NI Space, which supports the development of the regional cluster, said Ms Coogan’s graduation is a “truly momentous occasion for the space sector in Northern Ireland”.

With rapid expansions in science and technology that enable us to explore more of our universe, there has never been a more exciting time to be part of the space sector

Robert Hill, NI Space

Robert Hill, space adviser and cluster manager at NI Space, said they hope Ms Coogan’s appointment will encourage more future astronauts from the region.

“Northern Ireland is quickly becoming a global leader in the sector and has been involved in a number of high-profile projects recently, including the James Webb Space Telescope, and to have Rosemary representing Northern Ireland as our first-ever astronaut is the icing on top of the cake,” he said.

“With rapid expansions in science and technology that enable us to explore more of our universe, there has never been a more exciting time to be part of the space sector.

“We hope that Rosemary’s appointment to the ESA will inspire more and more young people in Northern Ireland to consider a career in the industry, which provides endless opportunities.

“We’re really looking forward to following Rosemary’s journey and will be cheering her on during her first mission.”

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