Sunday 22 September 2019

Astronaut tells schoolchildren to focus on sport as it could get them into space

Astronaut Paolo Nespoli addresses secondary school pupils at GMIT
Astronaut Paolo Nespoli addresses secondary school pupils at GMIT

Caroline Crawford

An Italian astronaut has urged Irish students to focus on sports if they want to pursue a career in space.

Paolo Nespoli said that while study was important, the teamwork and endurance involved in sport would teach young people all they needed to know about being an astronaut.

Mr Nespoli, who will carry out his third space mission in 2017, said many young people still automatically rule themselves out of careers in space because they feel they could never reach it.

"It was the same for me when I was a child. I would say I wanted to be on the moon and people would look at me in a patronising way. It was not until I was 27 that I followed my dream," he said.

He urged young Irish people to focus on their studies, especially foreign languages, and their physical health. However he insisted that involvement in sports could give them the added boost needed.

"Being an astronaut means being in a confined and isolated environment for a long time with a small set of people. It means being able to work in a team. I tell people try and do sports. Sports are very important because they allow you to measure your limits. "There are sports that are single sports, like climbing a mountain which helps with the isolation. But then there are others that rely on teamwork. Being able to work on a team is a very important part when people are selecting the candidates," he said.

Mr Nespoli said he wanted to remove the myth that astronauts must be a genius in maths, science or engineering.

"The basic requirement is an engineering, maths or science degree and English. Everybody thinks astronauts are super scientists, in fact an astronaut is someone able to work in isolated environments who has no problem doing essentially anything.

"In space what you will be asked to do most of the time is just regular work. You need to be a plumber, you need to be an electrician, a crane operator. You need to be the guy who puts on a suit and goes out and fixes things with a screwdriver. There is a lot of manual work. You cannot say: 'Hey I'm a biologist.' Who's going to fix the toilet? It's not like Houston can send someone up to do that," he added.

Mr Nespoli, who will spend five months on the International Space Station from May 2017, shared his experiences with 500 secondary school pupils at GMIT as part of the 18th Galway Science and Technology Festival.

Irish Independent

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