Mayo woman takes one giant leap towards becoming Ireland’s first astronaut in space

Mayo woman takes one giant leap towards becoming Ireland’s first astronaut in space

DR. NORAH PATTEN has been dreaming of one day travelling into space ever since she visited the NASA headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of just 11.

"I just thought ‘This is so cool’. We got to see the wind tunnels, the aircraft, all of those kinds of things," she told the Sunday Times in a new interview.

"The exposure to something like that at that age was so important. Back then the standard career was that girls would go into the nursing and teaching, but this lit a spark in me for something completely different."

Now, nearly 25 years later, she stands on the brink of becoming Ireland’s first astronaut to reach space following the success of first Virgin Galactic flight last December 2018.

Richard Branson’s bold project to start commercial flights into space enjoyed an early success with the launch of a first flight beyond the atmosphere.

Virgin Galactic has grand ambitions to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists as well as suborbital launches for space science missions.

Once these suborbital flights commence on a regular basis, scientists like Dr. Patten will be in serious demand.

That represents a giant leap for the avid space enthusiast from Ballina in County Mayo.

Keen to make her dream a reality after that early trip to NASA, Dr. Patten went on to study aeronautical engineering and the enrolled at the International Space University in France.

It wasn’t easy though, as she explained to the Sunday Times.

"When I was in school in 1990s Ireland, you’d say to people ‘I’m going to study aeronautical engineering’. There were eyebrows raised but that was stereotypes at the time, now we’re more aware of those biases," she said.

After studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Limerick, Patten went on to work as an intern at Boeing in Seattle, but always knew she was destined for more.

“Aero is not space, it’s aircraft, but it’s the closest thing you could get in Ireland,” she told the newspaper.

“A lot of the astronauts that I admired when I was a teenager would have studied some kind of aerospace engineering.”

A PhD at Limerick on wind tunnel testing followed before she moved on to the International Space University becoming a teaching associate.

More recently, Patten has been taking part in intensive training at Nasa that represents first, and only, crewed suborbital research program with Patten the only Irish person to land a place on the 12-person scheme.

It’s taken her to the brink of achieving something truly unique. Something Dr. Patten is only too aware of.

“There has never been an Irish person in space,” she told the Times.

“I’d love to be the first, wouldn’t it be so cool? This is something I have been working on for so long. I’d like to make it happen for myself. It’s nearly become bigger than me.”

The full interview can be read here.