Aspiring Wicklow rocket scientist (16) makes dream trip to NASA – ‘Now I’m convinced that is where I belong’

Blessington community College student Asia O'Riordan pictured with astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson at the U.S. Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.

Eoin Mac RaghnaillWicklow People

Blessington Community College student Asia was seeing stars earlier this month when she made the trip of a lifetime to see the U.S. Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.

Transition year student Asia (16) was part of a group of eight TY students from Ireland who made the journey to see the sprawling aerospace centre, as part of an upcoming RTÉ programme that is due to air this Autumn.

The lucky students were put through a rigorous astronaut training programme at the massive centre – which houses one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia in the world – and even got to spend a day in the company of a bona fide NASA astronaut.

With her feet now back on Wicklow terra firma, Asia said that the once in a lifetime trip was a dream come true and that she felt honoured to be given the unique opportunity.

“I found out about it was through the school, who had put up an application form for this trip to NASA,” Asia said. “I didn’t really know what it was, but I looked it up and it seemed really interesting, so I just thought I’d go for it.

“As part of your application you have to submit a two minute video of why you’d want to go, so I talked about how much I loved space and showed them the telescope I had at home.

“Thankfully, I got accepted out of a couple of hundred applicants, which was reduced down to 20. All of the finalist went to a casting day, which involved a bunch of interviews, and everything was filmed so that they could see what you’re like on camera. I was delighted when I was chosen as one of the eight.

“It was really amazing over there. We got to see what an astronaut training programme is like. There were hikes, scuba diving, rocket building and all kinds of team challenges.

“The main attraction at the centre is the Saturn V rocket, which are the ones that were used on the Apollo missions. The entire centre was built around a mock-up one that they made but never used. There were loads of other smaller rockets and capsules that had come back from space – it’s like one big aerospace museum.”

Having developed a keen in interest in space and the space sciences over the past number of years, Asia said that her favourite part of the trip was meeting retired NASA astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson.

A veteran of five space missions, with over 36 days of space time under his belt, Asia couldn’t help but be inspired by the accomplishments of the former fighter pilot.

“He gave us a talk about his whole life story and the missions that he had been on,” Asia said. “At the end we asked him questions and it was really interesting to hear his responses. He started off as a fighter pilot, became an astronaut and went into space five times. It was really cool and inspiring to talk to him.

“I’d like to thank Mind the Gap films for giving me this amazing eye-opening opportunity. Before I went on this trip I had thought about pursuing a career in the space sciences in the future. Now I’m convinced that is where I belong.”