Hopes high for more Aussies to become astronauts

Reserve astronaut Dr Meganne Christian. | Newsreel
Reserve astronaut Dr Meganne Christian. | Photo: Supplied by QUT

All Australians should be in the running to be part of the nation’s first manned space flight, according to Australian-raised reserve astronaut Dr Meganne Christian.

Speaking at the flagship QUT research event series, QUT Connections: a forum for bold ideas, Dr Christian, who was selected from 22,500 applications to join the European Space Agency as one of 12 reserve astronauts in November 2022, fielded a range of questions, including if Australia would select its own astronaut students one day.

“I really hope so,” Dr Christian said.

“In my selection there was an Australian who got right through to the final round but wasn’t selected in the end, but she works for the Australian Space Agency and has been sent to do training with the five career astronauts to potentially set up a human spaceflight program in Australia.

“But I do think that before we send the first person to space under the Australian flag, there should be a selection that is open to all Australian citizens.”

Dr Christian, originally from Wollongong, but now working with the UK Space Agency, spoke on a range of out-of-this world topics including the benefits of manufacturing in zero-gravity, predicting space factories could be orbiting the Earth in a decade.

“Zero gravity is a game changer in science. There are a lot of things you can do when you don’t have gravity, particularly in pharmaceuticals and advanced materials like semi-conductors and fibre optics,” Dr Christian said.

As the UK Space Agency’s Exploration Commercialisation Lead she works to ensure the future of manufacturing in space through partnerships with commercial space stations that are set to replace the International Space Station (ISS) when it is decommissioned in 2030.

The 3D printing of tissues and organs and the crystallisation of pharmaceuticals that can’t be crystalised on Earth are among the medical advances that Dr Christian is hoping to test further in the new space stations.

“We have tested this on the ISS but it really needs to be upscaled and tested further to demonstrate what can be achieved,” she said.

On her goal to venture into space, she says it is a waiting game.

“There are no guarantees, but there is something interesting going on at the moment,” she said.

“The UK Space Agency has a memorandum of understanding with Axiom Space (the world’s first commercial space station) to invest in the possibility of an all-British mission that is fully commercially funded.”

And on how far she would be willing to travel, like a multi-year mission to Mars?

“Yes, as long as the plan was to return. There have been ideas of going to Mars and staying there but I definitely want to come back.”

Watch a replay of QUT Connections: a forum for bold ideas with reserve astronaut Dr Meganne Christian.

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