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Dr Norah Patten to become first Irish person in space


By Sarah Finnan
21st Jun 2024
Dr Norah Patten to become first Irish person in space

The Mayo native will join an all-woman team of researchers on Virgin Galactic's second generation of spacecraft, making Dr Norah Patten the first Irish person in space.

Originally from the west of Ireland but now living in Dublin, Dr Norah Patten will become the first Irish person in space thanks to a research mission on Virgin Galactic’s new commercial spacecraft. Due to begin operations in 2026, Dr Patten will be one of three members being sent up by the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS) to advance scientific knowledge on supporting life in space.

According to RTÉ News, Dr Patten, along with two other researchers – Kellie Gerardi from the US and Dr Shawna Pandya from Canada – will undertake the mission on Virgin Galactic’s second generation of spacecraft, known as Delta, during the first year of its operation.

The commercial space flight will be less than two hours long and is sub-orbital, meaning that it will travel to and from space without going around the Earth.

An aeronautical engineer, scientist-astronaut and author, Dr Patten has long had her sights set on the stars, attributing her fascination with space to a very special childhood trip to NASA. “When I was 11 years of age, I visited NASA in Cleveland, Ohio and became obsessed with all things space,” she explains. “Since then, I have been on my own space quest and have navigated a career to bring me on a journey to the stars.”

Excited to represent Ireland and further our understanding of microgravity research, Patten has already been involved in several other microgravity research campaigns, commercial spacesuit testing and evaluation, and emergency egress operations.

“The IIAS-02 research spaceflight will build on the scientific knowledge and operational insights gained from our inaugural IIAS-01 mission in 2023 while introducing novel biomedical research,” the IIAS said in a statement announcing the news yesterday. “We’ll be collaborating closely with academic, government, and commercial partners to meticulously plan the crew’s activities to maximise science and technology returns.

“Throughout their years working with our institute, Kellie, Shawna, and Norah have consistently demonstrated the teamwork, excellence, and expertise needed to produce high-quality, cutting-edge research in operational environments. We look forward to continuing our work with Virgin Galactic to maximize the research potential of the Delta-class space vehicles for future IIAS research spaceflights.”

 

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A post shared by Dr. Norah Patten ?? (@spacenorah)

“I’m so grateful. I’m so thankful. And I’m just so proud to have this moment. It’s very hard to put into words the excitement and pride and all the emotions I feel now that this spaceflight has been secured,” she told RTÉ in response to the incredible news.

The cost of the flight is expected to be upwards of half a million euros and will be funded by institutional investors, grans and sponsors.

Chatting to Orla Neligan in a previous issue of IMAGE Magazine, Dr. Patten said, “I didn’t set out to be an agent of change, I just wanted to share my experiences with others, especially children, to prove to them what was possible. I want to show people that no matter how big their ambitions are, nothing should hold them back.”

Photography by Barry McCall for IMAGE Magazine