Space Researcher Dr Norah Patten Becomes First Irish Woman to Enter Space

Dr. Norah Patten, originally from Co. Mayo and currently residing in Dublin, is poised to make history as Ireland’s first astronaut. Employed at Realtra Space Systems Engineering in Coolock, she will join a research mission aboard Virgin Galactic’s new commercial spacecraft, scheduled to commence operations in 2026.

Selected by the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), Dr. Patten will contribute to advancing scientific understanding of life support systems in space, following a successful mission conducted by the Institute last year. Alongside researchers from the US and Canada, she will embark on Virgin Galactic’s second-generation spacecraft, Delta, during its inaugural year of operation.

The suborbital commercial spaceflight, lasting under two hours, will not orbit the Earth but will venture to and from space. Funded by institutional investors, grants, and sponsors, the all-woman research team aims to expand knowledge in fluid dynamics and biomedical research in the space environment.

Dr. Patten, an aeronautical engineer and bioastronautics researcher at IIAS, has participated in numerous research initiatives involving microgravity and the testing of commercial spacesuits. With a PhD in aeronautical engineering from the University of Limerick, she has served as a global faculty member at the International Space University and contributed to the Space Studies Program at the same institution.

Her passion for space exploration ignited over three decades ago during a family trip to a NASA research center in Cleveland, Ohio. Reflecting on her childhood aspiration to journey into space, she described it as once an “impossible dream,” now realized through perseverance and dedication.

“I visited NASA in Cleveland, Ohio when I was 11 years old,” Dr. Patten recalled. “Since that day, space has been my goal. Despite seeming like an impossible dream, with persistence and hard work, I have finally been given this incredible opportunity.”

Expressing gratitude for the opportunity, she added, “I am overwhelmed with gratitude and pride. It’s difficult to put into words the excitement and emotions I feel now that this spaceflight has been secured.”

While the cost of the upcoming flight aboard the new spacecraft is yet to be finalized, estimates suggest it will be around $600,000 (€560,000). For comparison, tickets for Virgin Galactic’s initial commercial flights on its Unity craft were priced at $450,000 (€420,000). Unity, which completed 12 flights and carried 37 people to space during its year of operation, was retired last week.

Dr. Patten emphasized that the research during the spaceflight will focus on understanding life’s performance in space. “The research spaceflight will be a one-day suborbital journey, lasting less than two hours from takeoff to landing,” she explained.

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