So you want to be an astronaut?

26th February 2013

NASA isn’t the only space agency any more. There are actually quite a few knocking about around the world – even the UK has one! We are now living in an era of renewed interest in human spaceflight and many of these agencies are looking for those men and women who will lead the exploration past the Moon and beyond. So you want to be an astronaut?

On today’s show, we talk to University of Nottingham alumni and almost-astronaut Simon Coggins about the job interview for becoming an astronaut. Stay tuned to learn the secrets of the job of a lifetime!

Don’t forget you can listen to the podcast on iTunes or our URN Podcast page.

About Simon

Our guest today joined the University of Nottingham’s Astronomy Group in the first round of postgraduate students and went on to have one of the most interesting and varied careers of anyone you’ll ever listen to! After Nottingham, Simon worked in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey working on the famous Halley V research station. Recently, the station was upgraded and our guest had a hand in creating the shiny, ski-equipped Halley VI research station that now houses scientists on the cold continent.Halley VI research station (2013)

It was while working here a few years ago that Simon saw a call from the European Space Agency (ESA) for applications to be the next generation of astronaut – a call that had not been issued for nearly two decades previously. Could you let this opportunity pass you? Simon didn’t. Today, he kindly shares his experiences of the interview process and inspires George and Carl to go outside once in a while…

Interview Process

The first round of the process involved having your application get through the mail room – essentially, all the obviously bad applications are rejected. The next step involved Simon and the remaining candidates being invited to Germany for some mental, physical and psychological challenges.

ESA Astronaut Training CentreSimon described how the tests ramped up in intensity and difficulty to the point where they become almost impossible. ESA want the best of the best and this is certainly the way to whittle the candidates down. While the tests were mentally challenging, the surroundings of Germany and indeed the ESA headquarters were rewards in themselves. The penultimate round included a detailed medical exam just to ensure that the final candidates where physically able to undertake the demanding training that awaited them.

Where are they now?

Since the experience, Simon has moved to a job in IT and now lives in New Zealand. These programming skills and a general interest in programming were seeded back in his undergraduate and PhD days. One language he used here at Nottingham was MATLAB, which is still taught to all Physics undergraduate students – however much they try and avoid it!

Simon’s final advice for all you future astronauts:

Student Science

This week, we have an experiment you’ll either love or hate… We show you how light gives Marmite that deathly black colour and how you can turn it white! Or rather, a very light brown…

Why not subscribe to your favourite Science Show on Youtube?

Science in the News

On the show, we chatted with Simon and producer Hena about the meteorite that entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia last week. An amazing and thankfully rare event, the meteorite produced a shockwave so powerful it blew out windows that injured over a thousand people!

You should check out the video of the meteor breaking apart as it travelled through the atmosphere which we have put up on our Facebook page

We also talked about the threat posed by global warming on the permafrost which holds vast quantities of greenhouse gases in their frozen state. Check out the latest news report on the BBC News website.

Send Ben To Space!

Don’t forget, producer Ben needs your help to go to space! Vote for him at the Lynx Space Academy website now!