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Mayo woman on course to become first Irish person in space


HANDS ON PREPARATIONMayo woman Norah Patten is pictured with former astronaut Daniel Tani on the astronaut training programme in Florida, USA.

Cory Kilbane

Ballina native Dr Norah Patten is one of 12 participants taking part in a unique scientist-astronaut training programme in Florida, USA.
The programme PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) is designed to teach the candidates the skills needed to effectively conduct research on the next generation of space vehicles.
“Two colleagues of mine at the International Space University have done this programme in the past, and they highly recommended it,” Dr Patten told The Mayo News last week.
“I definitely think my academic background is always helpful, but I need to upskill on the hands-on activities, so that is my goal for the next 18 months or so, to do more hands-on stuff,” she explained.
“This for me is another step in the right direction, as I want to continue to progress in as many elements as I can, so when my time does come to apply to go to space, at least I’ll be in with a good shot.
“There is never any guarantee – this is what I always say to people. Even if I get selected by the European Agency or the Canadian Space Agency, there is still no guarantee of getting a flight, so for me, I just want to absolutely make the most of every opportunity I get.
“I really want to enjoy the experience while I’m upskilling, because the journey is as important as the destination; it has to be, because it can never be guaranteed,” she said.

Norah is the youngest of a family of five, her father Pat Patten is from Achill and her mother Bridie Patten is from Belmullet.
Her initial fascination with space began at a young age after a family trip to NASA in Cleveland, Ohio, when she was eleven.  
“That was where I first got an interest, and where I first got exposed to the whole space and aviation scene.
“I went back to my relations a couple of times in Cleveland in my teenage years, and I was able to go back to NASA. I also went to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida when I was 15, and that’s when I was like ‘Oh my god, this is definitely what I’m going to do with my career’.
“I think being exposed to all that – seeing the rockets, chatting with people in the visitor complex and all that kind of stuff – made me become obsessed with it. I wanted to know as much as I could,” she explained.
Norah’s passion for space travel has remained. She studied Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Limerick and later obtained a PhD in the same area of study.
She is currently a faculty member at the International Space University, and has also founded her own company Planet Zebunar, which is now launching a new series of science, tech, engineering and maths products designed to encourage, inspire and motivate the next generation of engineers, astronauts, scientists and innovators.

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