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Pilot points the way for Irish astronauts

TOMORROW'S astronauts will be picked from the ranks of today's commercial pilots, according to a veteran of two space missions.

The future commercialisation of space means that the first Irish astronaut is just a matter of time, said NASA's Capt Winston Scott on a visit to Dublin yesterday.

And he believes the current crop of 40 graduates from the Waterford-based Pilot Training College (PTC) could yield the first candidate.

"There is no doubt in my mind there will be an Irish astronaut -- it's just a matter of when, not if," said the 59-year-old pilot.

Capt Scott, who has toured dozens of Irish primary schools to inform children about the wonders of space, appears to have also inspired some of the awestruck graduate pilots when he met them at the weekend. And going from a commercial pilot to an astronaut may not be the giant leap they had once thought.

"It's quite possible some of the space pilots could come from the ranks of commercial pilots."

Capt Scott, who is a dean at the Florida Institute of Technology, which is partnered with the PTC, made three space walks during the course of his missions.

"It was fantastic, totally different from anything you can relate to on Earth."

And he happily posed for excited fans in Dublin yesterday, sporting his distinctive blue flight-suit and his numerous mission badges.

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