Wednesday 18 July 2018

'I want to help promote diversity': woman set to become first Irish person in Space on a mission to inspire next generation

Norah during space suit training
Norah during space suit training
Kathy Armstrong

Kathy Armstrong

A woman who is set to become the first Irish person to travel to Space has revealed she is on a mission to help the next generation to follow in her footsteps.

Dr Norah Patten said she is determined to inspire young people pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and to promote diversity.

Norah (34) told Independent.ie how her love of Space really took off.

She said: "The whole area of Space has always been absolutely fascinating to me.

"When I was eleven I got to visit Nasa in Ohio, once I went there I thought it was the coolest thing.
"I grew up in Mayo so to get to go visit that was a real eye-opener.

"It sparked an interest and from there I've always tried to progress my career in that direction."

Dr. Norah Patten with Astro Granny, one of the characters in the story, undertaking training to become a Scientist-Astronaut candidate in Florida
Dr. Norah Patten with Astro Granny, one of the characters in the story, undertaking training to become a Scientist-Astronaut candidate in Florida

Norah studied aeronautical engineering in University of Limerick before she completed a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering and she said she is lucky enough to have worked with incredible mentors.

She explained: "I never had a problem in college but when I was in school there were notions that engineering wasn't for girls, even back then I had to say to people, 'you're entitled to your opinion but I'm going to do what I have to do.'

"I'm lucky with who I have worked with and I have had fantastic mentors over the years."

Busy Norah also took part in the Space studies programme at the International Space University in 2010 and just complete a Scientist-Astronaut candidate programme in Florida last month.

She said: "I was fortunate enough to get accepted to train with Project PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in  the Upper Mesosphere) in Florida last month, it was absolutely fantastic.

"We got to do things like space suit training, hypoxia training, high gravity flight, zero gravity flights, it was just amazing, I'm already planning how I can go back.

"What they are trying to do is that when commercial Space flights begin we will be qualified to participate and do real scientific missions on them."

Norah has also founded a new project called Planet Zebunar, which she hopes will spark a passion for STEM in young people.

Norah proudly waves the Irish and Mayo flags before doing the high gravity flight
Norah proudly waves the Irish and Mayo flags before doing the high gravity flight

The first product was launched in Ireland this week and includes a story book, comic and interactive app for children aged 6+, she hopes to expand it further and roll it out internationally.

She said: "We've spent the last two years developing that and promoting diversity so that young people can get involved, no matter what their background is.

"We want to help kids get excited about the subjects.

"I think there's a lot of good work going on and activities that both boys and girls can get involved in.

"I think we absolutely need to help promote more women in STEM so that young girls can see that these careers are just as accessible to them as they are to the boys.

"Pre-conceived ideas and notions can have an impact on them and on society overall.

"I think a lot of the commercial STEM products fail to promote diversity or get both boys and girls interested."

For more information about Planet Zebunar please visit here

Planet Zebunar Augmented Reality App brings this world to life
Planet Zebunar Augmented Reality App brings this world to life

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