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  • Australia claims its ‘first’ female astronaut in Meganne Christian – along with New Zealand, Italy and the UK

Australia claims its ‘first’ female astronaut in Meganne Christian – along with New Zealand, Italy and the UK

Australia is celebrating the rise of women in space with NSW-raised Dr Meganne Christian selected as part of the European Space Agency’s 2022 astronaut class.

She is one of 11 reserve astronauts, in addition to five career astronauts and one parastronaut chosen from more than 22,500 applicants. If she goes to space it will be as a Briton as she was born there and has British citizenship in addition to being an Australian, Italian and New Zealand citizen as well.

She is fluent in English, Italian and French, and also speaks Japanese.

While the federal government was happy to claim Dr. Christian as the country’s “first female astronaut” following the announcement, a space professor at Swinburne University said Kim Ellis hopes to clinch that title next yearwhen she embarks on a suborbital parabolic mission more than 50 miles above Earth.

Ellis was chosen to train as a PoSSUM (Polar suborbital science in the upper mesosphere) scientist-astronaut in 2020. The US nonprofit research and education program is led by the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), and its training has been delayed by the global Covid pandemic. She was selected as a Global Ambassador for 2021 Postum 13 – a team of female scientist-astronaut candidates.

Dr. Christian’s interest in space started when an astronaut came to her school when she was a child and aspired to become one “ever since.”

“Being an astronaut is just about the coolest job in the world,” she told the ESA, using an Australian accent after her selection.

“And I think that’s from so many different perspectives and it’s so unique. It is something special to do that not many people get to do.”

Dr. Christian is a materials scientist and atmospheric physicist who came to Australia in 1992 at the age of five and attended Illawarra Grammar School in Wollongong before studying engineering at UNSW, where he university medal in industrial chemistry. She obtained her PhD at UNSW in 2014 on research into hydrogen storage.

After that, she wanted to move back to Europe and continues her postdoctoral research at the Italian National Research Agency. In recent years she has also had two stints in Antarctica for the Italians at the Franco-Italian research facility Concordia Station, 1,100 km inland from Australia’s Casey Station.

Australian Space Agency head Enrico Palermo said the selection of Dr Christian will inspire the next generation of young Australians.

“We often refer to space as the gateway to STEM because of its ability to arouse curiosity – and what more does that do than knowing that someone who grew up here in Australia could end up in space one day,” she said.

“This also presents a great opportunity for Australia to build on our relationship with the European Space Agency and UK Space Agency.”

Oceanographer Paul Scully-Power was the first Australian-born person to fly into space in 1984 aboard the Challenger shuttle. Following in his footsteps was Adelaide-born Andy Thomas, who was part of four NASA space missions, including 141 days aboard the Russian space station, Mir.

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