How to be an Astronaut

A few weeks ago I went to a talk given by the winner of the BBC programme Astronauts: Do you have what it takes? Summarised here in this dramatic trailer:

The premise of the programme is that 12 people have been selected to take part in different exercises that test their suitability to be an astronaut. There were both physical and psychological challenges that the contestants had to face. I did not actually get round to watching it, but I thought the talk would be interesting.

The woman who won and presented the talk was bloody amazing. She made me feel very lazy indeed. She is called Suzie Imber and is Associate Professor at Leicester University. She studied Physics at Imperial College and managed to do an internship at NASA. Then, while she was doing her PhD at Leicester she got into mountaineering, as a hobby.

After finishing her PhD, she worked for NASA again before moving back to Leicester. Her main area of research is space weather. While she was researching that and climbing mountains she realised that the maps she was using for the Andes were not very up to date.

So she did what any of us would do. She got some satellite images of the mountain range and wrote some computer code to map where the mountain peaks actually were and managed to discover several new mountains. Obviously, she has already gone climbing some of these. While they were climbing these undiscovered mountains, she and her mountaineering friends found some undiscovered Incan artefacts. So when they got back down they got in touch with an archaeologist so their discoveries could be recorded properly.

And that was all before she won the Astronaut programme! Winning got her a letter of recommendation from astronaut Chris Hadfield for the next time space agencies are recruiting for astronauts.

Needless to say, everyone was very impressed. It was quite an inspiring talk. It did not make me want to climb mountains or become an astronaut. I am way too anxious for that. But I did feel encouraged to try and be as productive as I could with my free time, and to aim high. Because who knows what random and awesome things might come from it.

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