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Northern Ireland woman UK’s latest astronaut to gain wings

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NORTHERN Ireland woman Rosemary Coogan has gained her astronaut wings, graduating from space training as a new European Space Agency astronaut.

After completing one year of rigorous basic astronaut training, Belfast-born 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, the astronauts have become eligible for spaceflight.

An astrophysicist with two master’s degrees from Durham University and an astronomy doctorate from Sussex, the 33-year-old was selected to join the Esa’s astronaut training programme in 2022, after beating more than 22,500 applicants.

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.

Tim Peake
Astronaut Tim Peake

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.”

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.

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”.

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.

Mr Hamill is space adviser and cluster manager at NI Space
Robert Hamill
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