Friday 17 November 2017

NASA offers budding Irish astronauts new frontier

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

IT'S lucky that NASA has thrown a lifeline to budding Irish astronauts, because it seems we have "little chance" of being invited into space by our European neighbours.

Alvaro Gimenez Canete, Director of Science and Robotic Exploration at the European Space Station, has admitted that Irish astronaut hopefuls had "little chance" of making it into space in the absence of any state funding for the European space exploration programme.

"Otherwise the Germans might feel they were paying for the Irish to fly," Mr Gimenez Canete told delegates yesterday at the Euroscience Open Forum. And the Germans presumably feel they are paying for enough.

However, earlier, NASA Administrator Major General Charles F Bolden spoke of a new partnership with Irish universities to give scientists a chance to work at NASA -- a move viewed by many as the first step towards sending an Irish astronaut into space.

The move follows two years of negotiation between the Irish consulate in San Francisco and NASA to ensure Ireland is the first country to officially partner with the US space agency.

It is expected that the initial agreement will mean two undergraduates travel to the US annually to work and study at the Ames base in Silicon Valley, with all universities asked to participate.

But anyone signing up in the hope of witnessing a UFO might be disappointed.

In a question-and-answer session following his keynote speech at the Euroscience event, Major General Bolden told delegates that NASA has never been able to verify any of the so-called UFO sightings taken by anonymous witnesses.

However, UFOs do exist, he told the surprised crowd -- but these unidentified flying objects actually witnessed by NASA have always been subsequently identified.

In many cases, they turn out to be merely chunks of ice generated by the engines of the spacecraft, he explained.

Maj Gen Bolden told delegates that current work being done by NASA is paving the way for a journey to Mars in the 2030s.

He said he was personally excited about the Mars rover that is on schedule to land next month to "probe the mysteries of the red planet".

Meanwhile, former President Mary Robinson told delegates that we have set the Earth on a course which puts us at risk, despite being presented with solid scientific evidence about climate change.

"Clearly we are in a dilemma. What do we need to do to convince governments, corporations and individuals to show leadership and embrace real change?" she asked.

Finding a solution to the climate crisis is proving difficult, she said.

"The strides we made in Durban last December, where the global community agreed to develop a new legal instrument for all countries by 2015, have been challenged," she said, with some countries "stepping back from this commitment".

She said science has a key role to play in providing the information needed to measure emissions.

However, science alone can't find a solution since politics also have an influence, she warned, urging scientists not to be afraid "to lead, to hold governments to account or to defend the vulnerable. This is what we need you for".

Irish Independent

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