Becoming an astronaut

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become an astronaut? Mathematical thinking and reasoning will help you stand out from the crowd when tackling ‘out of this world’ problems, but how do we truly develop and implement this style of thinking throughout our everyday lives?

Dr Bell took us on a journey through the history of human spaceflight and explained her unique experience as a candidate on the BBC documentary series Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? and showed us how we too can put our own maths skills to the test!


Dr Jackie Bell is a Senior Teaching Fellow at Imperial College London. Recently made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Liverpool, Jackie has both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Mathematics Sciences, followed by a PhD in Theoretical Particle Physics in 2016. In 2017 Jackie took part in a BBC science production called Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? for which she was selected from over 3,000 applicants to take part and undertake tests similar to those used in the astronaut selection process at major space agencies. Dr Bell has a huge passion for communicating science and inspiring others to pursue STEM careers.


Dr Bell has wanted to be an astronaut for a very long time and she was very interested in finding out why we are fascinated by space and why so many people strive to become astronauts or spend their research careers, for example, looking for life on other planets. Why they are researching into how galaxies and the Universe itself were created.

Most people are interested in space to some degree and some are lucky to be able to look through telescopes to experience some of the wonders of space.

Looking through telescopes gives a sense of exploration and some people have a desire of colonizing other planets in the future. Was this something that’s always been built into us as human beings, into our human nature, that sense of wanting something more?

Now it was Greek philosopher, Socrates, who said that man must rise above Earth to the top of the atmosphere and beyond, for only then, will he fully understand the world in which he lives.


A marble head of Socrates in the Louvre

Socrates (c. 470 – 399 BC) was a Greek philosopher from Athens who is credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he authored no texts, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers composing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos. Aristophanes, a playwright, is the main contemporary author to have written plays mentioning Socrates during Socrates’ lifetime, although a fragment of Ion of Chios’ Travel Journal provides important information about Socrates’ youth

Socrates’ view is very much true of the astronauts that have been to space since then, and the people who have developed the technology to get them there. And from all of the research that has been done in space to help us better understand and repair our planet.

The image below is commonly known as Earthrise and it reminds us of how beautiful our planet is, but how fragile it is and how we must really look after it.


Earthrise is a photograph of Earth and some of the Moon’s surface that was taken from lunar orbit by astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission.


William Alison Anders (born October 17, 1933) is a retired United States Air Force major general, former electrical engineer, nuclear engineer, NASA astronaut, and businessman.

Apollo 8 was the first crewed spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit, and also the first human spaceflight to reach another astronomical object, namely the Moon, which the crew orbited without landing, and then departed safely back to Earth.

Now this fascination with worlds above the clouds comes from people who dare to dream and who’ve looked for something bigger. It’s come from ancient myths that have been passed down through the generations.

Now it wasn’t until the invention of the telescope that we could actually see these worlds in more detail and the first person to apply for a patent for a telescope was a Dutch eyeglass maker called Hans Lipperhey.


Hans Lipperhey (1570 – buried 29 September 1619), also known as Johann Lippershey or Lippershey, was a German-Dutch spectacle-maker. He is commonly associated with the invention of the telescope, because he was the first one who tried to obtain a patent for it. It is, however, unclear if he was the first one to build a telescope.

Lipperhey applied to the States General of the Netherlands on 2 October 1608 for a patent for his instrument “for seeing things far away as if they were nearby”, a few weeks before another Dutch instrument-maker’s patent, that of Jacob Metius. Lipperhey failed to receive a patent since the same claim for invention had also been made by other spectacle-makers but he was handsomely rewarded by the Dutch government for copies of his design. His design had a magnification of 3X. It could make objects three time bigger.

Jacob (Jacobus; sometimes James) Metius (after 1571–1628) was a Dutch instrument-maker and a specialist in grinding lenses. He is primarily known for the patent application he made for an optical telescope in October 1608, a few weeks after Hans Lippershey submitted a patent for the same device.

There are many stories as to how Lipperhey came by his invention. One version has Lipperhey observing two children playing with lenses in his shop and commenting how they could make a far away weather-vane seem closer when looking at it through two lenses. Other stories have Lipperhey’s apprentice coming up with the idea or have Lipperhey copying someone else’s discovery.

Then we have Galileo, who about one year later produced his own version of the telescope. You are probably more familiar with thinking he invented the telescope


Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642) was an Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer, sometimes described as a polymath, from Pisa. Galileo has been called the “father of observational astronomy”,[4] the “father of modern physics”, the “father of the scientific method”, and the “father of modern science”

Based only on uncertain descriptions of the first practical telescope which Hans Lippershey tried to patent in the Netherlands in 1608 (the two never met and Galileo never saw one of the telescopes or the design), Galileo, in the following year, made a telescope with about 3x magnification. He later made improved versions with up to about 30x magnification. With a Galilean telescope, the observer could see magnified, upright images on the Earth—it was what is commonly known as a terrestrial telescope or a spyglass. He could also use it to observe the sky; for a time, he was one of those who could construct telescopes good enough for that purpose. On 25 August 1609, he demonstrated one of his early telescopes, with a magnification of about 8 or 9, to Venetian lawmakers. His telescopes were also a profitable sideline for Galileo, who sold them to merchants who found them useful both at sea and as items of trade. He published his initial telescopic astronomical observations in March 1610 in a brief treatise entitled Sidereus Nuncius (Starry Messenger)


Galileo’s “cannocchiali” telescopes at the Museo Galileo, Florence

Galileo is really famous for being the first person to point a telescope at the sky so he could get a more detailed glimpse of the stars and the Moon.

He wasn’t the first person to look at the moon in more detail. Records say that this accolade belongs to an English mathematician called Thomas Harriet who done this a few months before. (below left)


Above right: Harriot’s illustration of the Moon from 1609.

Thomas Harriot (c. 1560 – 2 July 1621), also spelled Harriott, Hariot or Heriot, was an English astronomer, mathematician, ethnographer and translator who made advances within the scientific field. Thomas Harriot was recognized for his contributions in astronomy, mathematics, and navigational techniques.

Harriot’s 26 July 1609 drawings of his observations of the Moon have been noted as the first recorded telescopic observations ever made, predating Galileo Galilei’s 30 November 1609 observation by over four months. Galileo’s drawings, which were the first such observations to be published, contained greater detail such as identifying previously unknown features including mountains and craters, which hadn’t been seen with such clarity before. He was able to do this because he was using his telescope, which had a greater magnification than Harriot’s.

Now since Galileo’s time we’ve wanted to build bigger and better technologies to see these worlds above the sky in greater detail. For example, The Very Large Telescope

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is a telescope facility operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The VLT consists of four individual telescopes, each with a primary mirror 8.2 m across, which are generally used separately but can be used together to achieve very high angular resolution. The four separate optical telescopes are known as Antu, Kueyen, Melipal, and Yepun, which are all words for astronomical objects in the Mapuche language. The telescopes form an array which is complemented by four movable Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) of 1.8 m aperture.


The VLT operates at visible and infrared wavelengths. Each individual telescope can detect objects roughly four billion times fainter than can be detected with the naked eye, and when all the telescopes are combined, the facility can achieve an angular resolution of about 0.002 arc-second. In single telescope mode of operation angular resolution is about 0.05 arc-second.

The VLT is the most productive ground-based facility for astronomy, with only the Hubble Space Telescope generating more scientific papers among facilities operating at visible wavelengths. Among the pioneering observations carried out using the VLT are the first direct image of an exoplanet, the tracking of individual stars moving around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, and observations of the afterglow of the furthest known gamma-ray burst.

Another example is the James Webb Space Telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or “Webb”) is a joint NASA-ESA-CSA space telescope that is planned to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s flagship astrophysics mission. The JWST will provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble, and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology, including observing some of the most distant events and objects in the universe, such as the formation of the first galaxies.


Above left: Three-quarter view of the top. Above right: Bottom (Sun-facing side)

The primary mirror of the JWST, the Optical Telescope Element, is composed of eighteen hexagonal mirror segments of 1.32 metres incircle diameter made of gold-plated beryllium which combine to create a 6.5 metres diameter mirror—considerably larger than Hubble’s 2.4 metres mirror. Unlike the Hubble telescope, which observes in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared (0.1 to 1 μm) spectra, the JWST will observe in a lower frequency range, from long-wavelength visible light through mid-infrared (0.6 to 28.3 μm), which will allow it to observe high redshift objects that are too old and too distant for Hubble to observe. The telescope must be kept very cold in order to observe in the infrared without interference, so it will be deployed in space near the Earth–Sun L2 Lagrange point, and a large sunshield made of silicon-coated and aluminium-coated Kapton will keep its mirror and instruments below 50 K (−223.2 °C).


Main mirror assembled at Goddard Space Flight Center, May 2016

The JWST is being developed by NASA—with significant contributions from the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the development effort following operations after launch by Space Telescope Science. The prime contractor is Northrop Grumman.

Development began in 1996 for a launch that was initially planned for 2007 and a 500-million-dollar budget, but the project has had numerous delays and cost overruns, and underwent a major redesign in 2005. The JWST’s construction was completed in late 2016, after which its extensive testing phase began. In March 2018, NASA further delayed the launch after the telescope’s sunshield ripped during a practice deployment. Launch was delayed again in June 2018 following recommendations from an independent review board. Work on integration and testing of the telescope was suspended in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding further delays. Work has resumed, but NASA announced that the launch date has once again been delayed to 31 October 2021. Current cost of development is over $10 billion.

Modern telescopes can act individually to observe things in space, but they can also combine together to produce really, high-resolution images and from their combined power and mirrors.

The VLT is an example of a land telescope and it’s used by astronomers all around the world. Not just people who happen to be out in the Atacama Desert.

The James Webb Space Telescope is an example of a telescope that astronomers, engineers, technicians and scientists will send into space to get a clear view of astronomical objects such as galaxies. Once it’s been launched everyone will be able to access the data. This includes school children.

Young people (and not so young) will be able to look at this data and analyse it and see what they can find.


For thousands of years humans have looked at the sky and asked themselves “how did we get here”, “How did the universe begin”, “is there life on any of the other planets”?

Are there planets that can accommodate life and do these planets have clouds. Do they have weather systems and seasons like Earth? Do they have rivers where water flows or are, they dry and barren like our hottest deserts, for example?

Surprisingly some of the technology that scientists and engineers have developed for space research has come from ideas mentioned in science fiction. Creative people coming up with concepts that they might not know how to build right now, but in the future scientists and engineers can make happen.

Looking into space through a telescope is one thing, but some people have dreamt about travelling in it for a very long time, wondering what it would be like to leave this planet and explore. This dreaming was going on long before the invention of telescope.


Jules Verne and HG Wells were some of the first people to write about human space travel, and describe what it could be. (below left)

Jules Gabriel Verne (8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905) was a French novelist, poet, and playwright. His collaboration with the publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel led to the creation of the Voyages extraordinaires, a series of bestselling adventure novels including Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1872).

image (above right)

Herbert George Wells (21 September 1866 – 13 August 1946) was an English writer. Prolific in many genres, he wrote dozens of novels, short stories, and works of social commentary, history, satire, biography and autobiography. His work also included two books on recreational war games. Wells is now best remembered for his science fiction novels and is often called the “father of science fiction”, along with Jules Verne and the publisher Hugo Gernsback.

Verne and Wells and other writers imagined things like the space rockets and how they would work. What the rockets would be built of and how long it would actually take to get to the moon.

It was really the launch of Sputnik 1 followed by Explorer 1 that was the beginning of the space race between the Soviet Union (the Russians) and the United States (the Americans).

Sputnik 1 was the first artificial Earth satellite. The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on 4 October 1957. It orbited for three weeks before its batteries died and then orbited silently for two months before it fell back into the atmosphere.

It was a polished metal sphere 58 cm in diameter (mass about 83 kg) with four external radio antennas to broadcast radio pulses. Its radio signal was easily detectable by radio amateurs, and the 65° inclination and duration of its orbit made its flight path cover virtually the entire inhabited Earth.

The satellite’s unanticipated success precipitated the American Sputnik crisis and triggered the Space Race, part of the Cold War. The launch was the beginning of a new era of political, military, technological and scientific developments. The word “sputnik” is Russian for satellite when interpreted in an astronomical context; its other meanings are spouse or traveling companion.

Tracking and studying Sputnik 1 from Earth provided scientists with valuable information. The density of the upper atmosphere could be deduced from its drag on the orbit, and the propagation of its radio signals gave data about the ionosphere.

Sputnik 1 was launched during the International Geophysical Year from Site No.1/5, at the 5th Tyuratam range, in Kazakh SSR (now known as the Baikonur Cosmodrome). The satellite travelled at about 29,000 kilometres per hour (8,100 m/s), taking 96.2 minutes to complete each orbit. It transmitted on 20.005 and 40.002 MHz, which were monitored by radio operators throughout the world. The signals continued for 21 days until the transmitter batteries ran out on 26 October 1957. Sputnik 1 burned up on 4 January 1958 while re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, after three months, 1440 completed orbits of the Earth, and a distance travelled of about 70 million km.


Explorer 1 was the first satellite launched by the United States and was part of the U.S. participation in the International Geophysical Year. The mission followed the first two satellites the previous year; the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 and 2, beginning the Cold War Space Race between the two nations.

Explorer 1 was launched on 31 January 1958 at 22:48 Eastern Time (1 February 03:48 UTC) atop the first Juno booster from LC-26 at the Cape Canaveral Missile Annex in Florida. It was the first spacecraft to detect the Van Allen radiation belt, returning data until its batteries were exhausted after nearly four months. It remained in orbit until 1970 and was followed by more than ninety scientific spacecraft in the Explorer series.

Explorer 1 was given Satellite Catalogue Number 4 and the Harvard designation 1958 Alpha 1, the forerunner to the modern International Designator.


It was the launch of these two satellites that cemented the belief that humans would actually be able to do the things that early science fiction writers had written about. That they would be able to go into space and visit the Moon and other planets.

Now, the next logical step once we knew that we could get satellites into space with the rocket power that had been developed was to send something living into space to see what would happen.

At this point in time there was very few predictions of what would happen when a human body was in space. What would happen to the body? What would happen to the bone density or muscle mass? How would the body react to micro gravity? So initially animals were used to test the safety and the side effects of space travel.

The first animals sent into space were fruit flies. They were launched by the US in a V2 rocket launched in 1947


The V-2 (German: Vergeltungswaffe 2, “Retribution Weapon 2”), with the technical name Aggregat 4 (A4), was the world’s first missile or long-range guided ballistic missile.

Operation Paperclip recruited German engineers and Special Mission V-2 transported the captured V-2 parts to the United States.


Above left: US test launch of a Bumper V-2. Above left: The first photo of Earth from space was taken from a V-2 launched by US scientists on 24 October 1946.

In 1948 the Americans sent a rhesus macaque monkey named Albert on a V2 rocket into space.


Laika (c. 1954 – 3 November 1957) was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. Laika, a stray mongrel from the streets of Moscow, was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on 3 November 1957.


In 1960 the Soviets sent two more dogs into space (Belka and Strelka) along with 42 mice, two rats, a rabbit flies and several plants and fungi. All passengers survived. They were the first Earth-born creatures to go into orbit and return alive.


Belka (above left) and Strelka (above right)

In 1961 the Americans sent Ham, the chimp into space.

Ham (July 1957 – January 19, 1983), also known as Ham the Chimp and Ham the Astrochimp, was a chimpanzee and the first non-human hominid launched into space. On January 31, 1961, Ham flew a suborbital flight on the Mercury-Redstone 2 mission, part of the U.S. space program’s Project Mercury. Ham’s name is an acronym for the laboratory that prepared him for his historic mission—the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, located at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, southwest of Alamogordo.


During his pre-flight training, Ham was taught to push a lever within five seconds of seeing a flashing blue light; failure to do so resulted in an application of a light electric shock to the soles of his feet, while a correct response earned him a banana pellet

Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States, running from 1958 through 1963.

It conducted twenty uncrewed developmental flights (some using animals), and six successful flights by astronauts.

These flights showed that humans could survive weightlessness and the effects of high gravitational forces.

At the last count, up until very recently, because there are still some small animals such as mice on the International Space Station, humans have launched 32 different monkeys into outer space. They’ve also sent up frogs, guinea pigs, tortoises, jellyfish, scorpions, fish, spiders, cockroaches and a cat. So, there have been quite a few animals in space.

Now having sent animals into space and have them safely returned the scientists came to the conclusion that there aren’t any dangerous side effects in space so perhaps a human should go. The Soviets were the first to send a man into space, His name was Yuri Gagarin.


Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin (9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968) was a Soviet Air Forces pilot and cosmonaut who became the first human to journey into outer space, achieving a major milestone in the Space Race; his capsule, Vostok 1, completed one orbit of Earth on 12 April 1961. Gagarin became an international celebrity and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, his nation’s highest honour.

This mission was his only spaceflight. Because he became so famous, he was told that he wasn’t allowed to fly again. He wasn’t even, initially, allowed to fly planes but after completing training at the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy on 17 February 1968, he was allowed to fly regular aircraft. Gagarin died five weeks later when the MiG-15 training jet he was piloting with his flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin crashed near the town of Kirzhach.


Vostok 1 was the first spaceflight of the Vostok programme and the first manned spaceflight in history. The Vostok 3KA space capsule was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 12, 1961, with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard, making him the first human to cross into outer space.

The orbital spaceflight consisted of a single orbit around Earth which skimmed the upper atmosphere at 169 kilometres at its lowest point. The flight took 108 minutes from launch to landing. Gagarin parachuted to the ground separately from his capsule after ejecting at 7 km altitude.

The Soviets also sent the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova.


Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova (born 6 March 1937) is a member of the Russian State Duma, engineer, and former cosmonaut. She is the first and youngest woman to have flown in space with a solo mission on the Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. She orbited the Earth 48 times, spent almost three days in space, and remains the only woman to have been on a solo space mission.

And so that was the Soviets. What was the US up to? They’ve sent up satellites but they were rather annoyed that the Soviets seemed to be winning the space race by sending humans into space.

Now the US weren’t being slow. In fact, in 1959, before Gagarin or Tereshkova had gone into space NASA had begun their astronaut selection.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and space research.

In 1958, NASA formed an engineering group, the Space Task Group, to manage their human spaceflight programs.

Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States, running from 1958 through 1963. An early highlight of the Space Race, its goal was to put a man into Earth orbit and return him safely, ideally before the Soviet Union. Taken over from the US Air Force by the newly created civilian space agency NASA, it conducted twenty uncrewed developmental flights (some using animals), and six successful flights by astronauts. The program, which took its name from Roman mythology, cost $2.25 billion adjusted for inflation. The astronauts were collectively known as the “Mercury Seven”, and each spacecraft was given a name ending with a “7” by its pilot.



1. Retropack. 2. Heatshield. 3. Crew compartment. 4. Recovery compartment. 5. Antenna section. 6. Launch escape system.

Prior to Project Mercury, there was no protocol for selecting astronauts so NASA would set a far-reaching precedent with both their selection process and initial choices for astronauts. At the end of 1958, various ideas for the selection pool were discussed privately within the national government and the civilian space program, and also among the public at large. Initially, there was the idea to issue a widespread public call to volunteers. Thrill-seekers such as rock climbers and acrobats would have been allowed to apply, but this idea was quickly shot down by NASA officials who understood that an undertaking such as space flight required individuals with professional training and education in flight engineering. By late 1958, NASA officials decided to move forward with test pilots being the heart of their selection pool

The group was narrowed down to active-duty military test pilots, which set the number of candidates at 508. These candidates were USN or USMC naval aviation pilots (NAPs), or USAF pilots of Senior or Command rating. These aviators had long military records, which would give NASA officials more background information on which to base their decisions.

From the original 508, 110 candidates were selected for an interview, and from the interviews, 32 were selected for further physical and mental testing. Their health, vision, and hearing were examined, together with their tolerance to noise, vibrations, g-forces, personal isolation, and heat. In a special chamber, they were tested to see if they could perform their tasks under confusing conditions. The candidates had to answer more than 500 questions about themselves and describe what they saw in different images.

The astronauts went through a training program, lasting six days and three nights, which covered some of the same exercises that were used in their selection. They simulated the g-force profiles of launch and reentry in a centrifuge at the Naval Air Development Center, and were taught special breathing techniques necessary when subjected to more than 6 g. Weightlessness training took place in aircraft, first on the rear seat of a two-seater fighter and later inside converted and padded cargo aircraft. They practiced gaining control of a spinning spacecraft in a machine at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory called the Multi-Axis Spin-Test Inertia Facility (MASTIF), by using an attitude controller handle simulating the one in the spacecraft. A further measure for finding the right attitude in orbit was star and Earth recognition training in planetaria and simulators. Communication and flight procedures were practiced in flight simulators, first together with a single person assisting them and later with the Mission Control Center. Recovery was practiced in pools at Langley, and later at sea with frogmen and helicopter crews. For part of their training, they had to stay in a pressure chamber for an hour that simulated an altitude of 19.812km. Then spend two hours in another chamber that was heated to 54oC.

After the gruelling training only 18 candidates remained and from these the seven were chosen, famously known as the Mercury 7.

The Mercury Seven were the group of seven astronauts selected to fly spacecraft for Project Mercury. They are also referred to as the Original Seven and Astronaut Group 1. Their names were publicly announced by NASA on April 9, 1959. These seven original American astronauts were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. The Mercury Seven created a new profession in the United States, and established the image of the American astronaut for decades to come.

All of the Mercury Seven eventually flew in space. They piloted the six spaceflights of the Mercury program that had an astronaut on board from May 1961 to May 1963, and members of the group flew on all of the NASA human spaceflight programs of the 20th century—Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle. Shepard became the first American to enter space in 1961, and later walked on the Moon on Apollo 14 in 1971. Grissom flew Mercury and Gemini missions, but died in 1967 in the Apollo 1 fire; the others all survived past retirement from service. Schirra flew Apollo 7, the first crewed Apollo mission, in Grissom’s place. Slayton, grounded with an atrial fibrillation, ultimately flew on the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project in 1975. Glenn became the first American in orbit in 1962, and flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998 to become, at age 77, the oldest person to fly in space. He was the last living member of the Mercury Seven when he died in 2016 at the age of 95.

Dr Bell thought it was important at this point to mention the Mercury 13, a project that seems to have been written out of history

The Mercury 13 were thirteen American women who, as part of a privately funded program, successfully underwent the same physiological screening tests as had the astronauts selected by NASA on April 9, 1959, for Project Mercury. The term was coined in 1995 by Hollywood producer James Cross as a comparison to the Mercury Seven name given to the selected male astronauts. The Mercury 13 women were not part of NASA’s astronaut program, never flew in space, and never met as a group.

In the 1960s some of these women were among those who lobbied the White House and Congress to have women included in the astronaut program. They testified before a congressional committee in 1962. Clare Boothe Luce wrote an article for LIFE magazine publicizing the women and criticizing NASA for its failure to include women as astronauts.


Jerrie Cobb with a Mercury capsule (c. early 1960s). She ranked in the top 2% of all astronaut candidates of both genders but she never got to go to space because she was a woman. We now know that this sort of discrimination is very wrong. But that’s how it was in the past.

There are books and documentaries about the Mercury 13

Wally Funk wrote an article saying that, given the secrecy of the testing, not all of the women candidates knew each other throughout their years of preparation. It was not until 1994 that ten of the Mercury 13 were introduced to each other for the first time

Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk (born February 1, 1939) is an American aviator and Goodwill Ambassador. She was the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, the first female civilian flight instructor at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the first female Federal Aviation Agency inspector, as well as one of the Mercury 13.


So, by 1961, satellites, animals and trained humans, from both the USSR and the US, have gone into space and orbited the Earth

So, the next step would be going to the moon. Up to this point in time the Moon had only ever been seen through the lens of a telescope and photographed with a camera.

Trips to the Moon had been portrayed in science fiction films. The first being the 1902 film entitled “Trip to the Moon”.

A Trip to the Moon (French: Le Voyage dans la Lune) is a 1902 French adventure short film directed by Georges Méliès. Inspired by a wide variety of sources, including Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon and its 1870 sequel Around the Moon, the film follows a group of astronomers who travel to the Moon in a cannon-propelled capsule, explore the Moon’s surface, escape from an underground group of Selenites (lunar inhabitants), and return to Earth with a captive Selenite. It features an ensemble cast of French theatrical performers, led by Méliès himself in the main role of Professor Barbenfouillis, and is filmed in the overtly theatrical style for which Méliès became famous.


The iconic image of the Man in the Moon


Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès (8 December 1861 – 21 January 1938), was a French illusionist, actor and film director who led many technical and narrative developments in the earliest days of cinema. Méliès was well known for the use of special effects, popularizing such techniques as substitution splices, multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted colour. He was also one of the first filmmakers to use storyboards. His films include A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), both involving strange, surreal journeys somewhat in the style of Jules Verne, and are considered among the most important early science fiction films, though their approach is closer to fantasy.


“We choose to go to the Moon”, officially titled as the Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort, is a speech delivered by United States President John F. Kennedy about the effort to reach the Moon to a large crowd gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962. The speech, largely written by Kennedy advisor and speechwriter Ted Sorensen, was intended to persuade the American people to support the Apollo program, the national effort to land a man on the Moon.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963), often referred to by his initials JFK, was an American politician who was the 35th president of the United States from 1961 until his assassination in 1963.

“We choose to go to the Moon…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too”

From this speech the Apollo missions were born.

The Apollo program, also known as Project Apollo, was the third United States human spaceflight program carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which succeeded in landing the first humans on the Moon from 1969 to 1972. It was first conceived during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration as a three-person spacecraft to follow the one-person Project Mercury, which put the first Americans in space. Apollo was later dedicated to President John F. Kennedy’s national goal for the 1960s of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” in an address to Congress on May 25, 1961. It was the third US human spaceflight program to fly, preceded by the two-person Project Gemini conceived in 1961 to extend spaceflight capability in support of Apollo.

The Apollo astronauts were chosen from the Project Mercury and Gemini veterans, plus from two later astronaut groups. All missions were commanded by Gemini or Mercury veterans. Crews on all development flights (except the Earth orbit CSM development flights) through the first two landings on Apollo 11 and Apollo 12, included at least two (sometimes three) Gemini veterans.

Project Gemini was NASA’s second human spaceflight program. Conducted between projects Mercury and Apollo, Gemini started in 1961 and concluded in 1966. The Gemini spacecraft carried a two-astronaut crew. Ten Gemini crews and sixteen individual astronauts flew low Earth orbit (LEO) missions during 1965 and 1966.

Thirty-two astronauts were assigned to fly missions in the Apollo program. Twenty-four of these left Earth’s orbit and flew around the Moon between December 1968 and December 1972 (three of them twice). Half of the 24 walked on the Moon’s surface, though none of them returned to it after landing once. One of the moonwalkers was a trained geologist. Of the 32, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed during a ground test in preparation for the Apollo 1 mission.

Apollo 1, initially designated AS-204, was the first crewed mission of the United States Apollo program, the undertaking to land the first man on the Moon. It was planned to launch on February 21, 1967, as the first low Earth orbital test of the Apollo command and service module. The mission never flew; a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex 34 on January 27 killed all three crew members—Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee—and destroyed the command module (CM). The name Apollo 1, chosen by the crew, was made official by NASA in their honour after the fire.


The tragedy of Apollo 1 was a big turning point for NASA in terms of safety and safety testing. This is why when there are launches now there has to be rigorous testing before any human gets anywhere near a spacecraft.

Very recently astronauts have gone into space from the US again after the space shuttle programme was closed down.

SpaceX has flown humans to the International Space Station.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. SpaceX has developed several launch vehicles, as well as the Dragon cargo spacecraft and the Starlink satellite constellation (providing internet access), and has flown humans to the International Space Station on the SpaceX Dragon 2.


Elon Reeve Musk FRS (born June 28, 1971) is a business magnate, industrial designer and engineer.


The SpaceX Dragon 2 is a class of reusable spacecraft developed and manufactured by American aerospace manufacturer SpaceX as the successor to Dragon, a reusable cargo spacecraft.


The International Space Station (ISS) is a modular space station (habitable artificial satellite) in low Earth orbit. It is a multinational collaborative project involving five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada).


The Space Shuttle was a partially reusable low Earth orbital spacecraft system operated from 1981 to 2011 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as part of the Space Shuttle program. Its official program name was Space Transportation System (STS), taken from a 1969 plan for a system of reusable spacecraft where it was the only item funded for development.

Between the cancelling of the shuttle to the development of SpaceX the only way you could get to the ISS was by launching rockets from Baikonur.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome is a spaceport in an area of southern Kazakhstan leased to Russia.

The Cosmodrome is the world’s first spaceport for orbital and human launches and the largest (in area) operational space launch facility. The spaceport is in the desert steppe of Baikonur, about 200 kilometres east of the Aral Sea and north of the river Syr Darya. It is near the Tyuratam railway station and is about 90 metres above sea level. Baikonur Cosmodrome and the city of Baikonur celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the foundation on 2 June 2018.

The SpaceX programme wants to regularly take astronauts to and from the ISS but a lot of safety testing has to be carried out because of the accidents that have taken place both with Apollo and the space shuttle.

Accidents that happened prior to Apollo 11, did set the programme back a bit which was good news for the Soviets because they’re in a race to get to the Moon. And the Soviets wanted to win this race. So, anything that set the Americans back was good news for the Soviets, even though it’s very sad.

The Russians have already carried out their first space walk in 1965. He was outside the spacecraft for about 10 minutes just sort of floating about.


Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov (30 May 1934 – 11 October 2019) was a Soviet and Russian cosmonaut, Air Force major general, writer, and artist. On 18 March 1965, he became the first person to conduct a spacewalk, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for 12 minutes and 9 seconds. He was also selected to be the first Soviet person to land on the moon, however the project was cancelled.

Voskhod 2 was a Soviet crewed space mission in March 1965.

Apparently, the Soviets sent the first animals to orbit the Moon. They were two tortoises and they were launched in Zond 5 on the 14th September 1968.

Zond 5 was a spacecraft of the Soviet Zond program. In September 1968 it became the second spaceship to travel to and circle the Moon, and the first to return safely to Earth.


The flying tortoises, identified as No. 22 and No. 37, had lost 10% of their body weight during the trip, but showed no loss of appetite. The control tortoises (left on Earth) lost 5% of their weight. Comparison of analyses of blood from the space-travelling tortoises and the control specimens revealed no differences. Another analysis showed the flying tortoises had elevated iron and glycogen levels in their liver and that the flight also affected the internal structures of their spleens.

The flying tortoises survived the trip but did not survive their treatment by scientists when they got back.

Apollo 8 was the first crewed spacecraft to leave low Earth orbit, and also the first human spaceflight to reach another astronomical object, namely the Moon, which the crew orbited without landing, and then departed safely back to Earth.

Apollo 9 was a March 1969 human spaceflight, the third in NASA’s Apollo program. Flown in low Earth orbit, it was the second crewed Apollo mission that the United States launched via a Saturn V rocket, and was the first flight of the full Apollo spacecraft: the command and service module (CSM) with the Lunar Module (LM). The mission was flown to qualify the LM for lunar orbit operations in preparation for the first Moon landing by demonstrating its descent and ascent propulsion systems, showing that its crew could fly it independently, then rendezvous and dock with the CSM again, as would be required for the first crewed lunar landing. Other objectives of the flight included firing the LM descent engine to propel the spacecraft stack as a backup mode (as would be required on the Apollo 13 mission), and use of the portable life support system backpack outside the LM cabin.

Apollo 10 was a May 1969 human spaceflight, the fourth crewed mission in the United States Apollo program, and the second (after Apollo 8) to orbit the Moon. It was the F mission: a “dress rehearsal” for the first Moon landing, testing all the components and procedures just short of actually landing.

After the successes of Apollo 8, 9 and 10 it was time for a Moon landing by a human.

image image

Above left): In this July 16, 1969 photo made available by NASA, the 363-feet Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew, launches from Pad A, Launch Complex 39, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA via AP). Above right: Buzz Aldrin on the Moon as photographed by Neil Armstrong (Armstrong seen in the visor reflection)

Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that first landed humans on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin formed the American crew that landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969, at 20:17 UTC (14:17 CST). Armstrong became the first person to step onto the lunar surface six hours and 39 minutes later on July 21 at 02:56 UTC; Aldrin joined him 19 minutes later. They spent about two and a quarter hours together outside the spacecraft, and they collected 21.5 kg of lunar material to bring back to Earth. Command module pilot Michael Collins flew the Command Module Columbia alone in lunar orbit while they were on the Moon’s surface. Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours, 36 minutes on the lunar surface at a site they named Tranquility Base before lifting off to rejoin Columbia in lunar orbit.

Apollo 11 was launched by a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, on July 16 at 13:32 UTC, and it was the fifth crewed mission of NASA’s Apollo program. The Apollo spacecraft had three parts: a command module (CM) with a cabin for the three astronauts, the only part that returned to Earth; a service module (SM), which supported the command module with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen, and water; and a lunar module (LM) that had two stages—a descent stage for landing on the Moon and an ascent stage to place the astronauts back into lunar orbit.

After being sent to the Moon by the Saturn V’s third stage, the astronauts separated the spacecraft from it and travelled for three days until they entered lunar orbit. Armstrong and Aldrin then moved into Eagle and landed in the Sea of Tranquility on July 20. The astronauts used Eagle’s ascent stage to lift off from the lunar surface and rejoin Collins in the command module. They jettisoned Eagle before they performed the manoeuvres that propelled Columbia out of the last of its 30 lunar orbits onto a trajectory back to Earth. They returned to Earth and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24 after more than eight days in space.

Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface was broadcast on live TV to a worldwide audience. He described the event as “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”. Apollo 11 effectively ended the Space Race and fulfilled a national goal proposed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy: “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” (Below left)


Neil Alden Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) was an American astronaut and aeronautical engineer, and the first person to walk on the Moon. He was also a naval aviator, test pilot, and university professor. (Above centre)

Buzz Aldrin (born Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr., January 20, 1930) is an American former astronaut, engineer and fighter pilot. (Above right)

Michael Collins (born October 31, 1930) is an American astronaut who flew the Apollo 11 command module Columbia around the Moon while his crewmates, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, made the first crewed landing on the surface. He was a test pilot and major general in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.

Apollo 11 was the fifth crewed mission in the Apollo programme and the command module was named Columbia.


Command module Columbia (CM-107) is the spacecraft that served as the command module during Apollo 11, which was the first mission to land humans on the Moon. Columbia is the only spacecraft of the Apollo 11 mission that returned to the Earth

The name Columbia was first suggested to Michael Collins by Julian Scheer, NASA assistant administrator of public affairs during the Apollo program. Scheer mentioned the name, in passing, in a phone conversation, saying “some of us up here have been kicking around Columbia.” Collins initially thought it was “a bit pompous” but the name eventually stuck as he could not think of a better alternative and his crewmates Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong had no objections. Collins was also influenced to accept the name because of its similarity to Columbiad, the name of the space gun in Jules Verne’s 1865 science fiction novel From the Earth to the Moon.

From the Earth to the Moon: A Direct Route in 97 Hours, 20 Minutes is an 1865 novel by Jules Verne. It tells the story of the Baltimore Gun Club, a post-American Civil War society of weapons enthusiasts, and their attempts to build an enormous Columbiad space gun and launch three people—the Gun Club’s president, his Philadelphian armour-making rival, and a French poet—in a projectile with the goal of a Moon landing.

On July 19 at 17:21:50 UTC, Apollo 11 passed behind the Moon and fired its service propulsion engine to enter lunar orbit. In the thirty orbits that followed, the crew saw passing views of their landing site in the southern Sea of Tranquility about 19 km southwest of the crater Sabine D. The site was selected in part because it had been characterized as relatively flat and smooth by the automated Ranger 8 and Surveyor 5 landers and the Lunar Orbiter mapping spacecraft, and because it was unlikely to present major landing or EVA challenges.

At 12:52:00 UTC on July 20, Aldrin and Armstrong entered Eagle, and began the final preparations for lunar descent. At 17:44:00 Eagle separated from Columbia.

A few things went wrong during the landing process, but were sorted out. It did have the effect that Eagle didn’t land in the original desired position.

Eagle landed at 20:17:40 UTC on Sunday July 20 with 98 kg of usable fuel remaining. Information available to the crew and mission controllers during the landing showed the LM had enough fuel for another 25 seconds of powered flight before an abort without touchdown would have become unsafe, but post-mission analysis showed that the real figure was probably closer to 50 seconds. Apollo 11 landed with less fuel than most subsequent missions, and the astronauts encountered a premature low fuel warning. This was later found to be the result of greater propellant ‘slosh’ than expected, uncovering a fuel sensor. On subsequent missions, extra anti-slosh baffles were added to the tanks to prevent this.

Armstrong was the first one to leave the lunar module and venture outside. His Grandmother apparently told him not to get out if it looked dangerous. He and Buzz Aldrin were the first people to ever set foot on another celestial body. A very iconic moment for the history of human spaceflight.

122 photographs were taken during this mission, which is quite a lot considering the equipment available at the time. The process took a lot of time too and these were really brilliant photographs of somewhere no one has ever been before.

A fun fact is that the spacesuits the astronauts wore were made by an all-female team who normally made bras.

ILC Dover, LP (also known as ILC) is an American special engineering development and manufacturing company based in Frederica, Delaware. ILC specializes in the use of high-performance flexible materials, serving the aerospace, personal protection, and pharmaceutical industries.

Best known for making space suits for NASA, ILC outfitted every United States astronaut in the Apollo program, including the twelve that walked on the moon. ILC also designed and manufactured the Space Suit Assembly portion of the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), worn by astronauts during performance of extra-vehicular activity (EVA) on Space Shuttle missions and on the International Space Station.

ILC began delivering spacesuits for the Apollo program in 1966. Initial deliveries of suits did not perform well in tests and NASA initially cancelled its contract.

NASA relaunched the program to develop a spacesuit for the Apollo program experimenting at first with hard suits. ILC won the sole contract based on its flexible, close-fitting design which featured water cooled undergarment, a blue inner pressurized layer, and covered in a white nylon layer to protect the suits from rocks.

The intricate workmanship of the Bra makers made the suits perfect. One stitch in the wrong place would allow air to leak out. Each suit cost around £80,000 but they are worth a lot more now.


The above image is Dr Bell’s favourite because it “captures” every single living human being living at that time, except for one, and that was Michael Collins because he took it whilst inside the command module, Colombia.

An estimated one million spectators watched the launch of Apollo 11 from the highways and beaches in the vicinity of the launch site. Dignitaries included the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, four cabinet members, 19 state governors, 40 mayors, 60 ambassadors and 200 congressmen. Vice President Spiro Agnew viewed the launch with former president Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird Johnson. Around 3,500 media representatives were present. About two-thirds were from the United States; the rest came from 55 other countries. The launch was televised live in 33 countries, with an estimated 25 million viewers in the United States alone. Millions more around the world listened to radio broadcasts. President Richard Nixon viewed the launch from his office in the White House with his NASA liaison officer, Apollo astronaut Frank Borman.

Altogether about 550 million people watched the broadcast live on TV. They watched Neil and Buzz walk on the Moon. According to the media at the time, the only person who did not watch this was Michael Collins because he was in the command module, Columbia, waiting for his team members to return. He got labelled as the loneliest person in the whole universe, which sounds really sad when you think of just him just orbiting the Moon taking the picture of every human being in the universe.

Unfortunately, Dr Bell didn’t have enough time to give a complete history of human spaceflight, but of course we humans haven’t stopped exploring. There have been many more successful missions. With the exception of Apollo 13 there were five more trips to the Moon, with Apollo 17 being the last (for now).

The Soviets may have lost the race to put a man on the Moon but they were the first to set up a space station.

Salyut 1 (DOS-1) (Russian: Салют-1) was the first space station launched into low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on April 19, 1971. The Salyut program followed this with five more successful launches of seven more stations. The final module of the program, Zvezda (DOS-8), became the core of the Russian segment of the International Space Station and remains in orbit.

Salyut 1 was modified from one of the Almaz airframes, and was made out of five components: transfer compartment, main compartment, two auxiliary compartments, and Orion 1 Space Observatory.

Salyut 1 was visited by Soyuz 10 and Soyuz 11. The hard-docking of Soyuz 10 failed and the crew had to abort this mission. The Soyuz 11 crew achieved successful hard docking and performed experiments in Salyut 1 for 23 days. However, they were killed by asphyxia caused by failure of a valve just prior to Earth re-entry, and were the only known people to have died above the Kármán line. Salyut 1’s mission was later terminated, and it re-entered on October 11, 1971.


One major motivation for the space station program was a desire to one-up the US Skylab program then in development. Another was to produce a place in space where people could stay for a few days or a few weeks and worked on experiments. This is really where the space research was born.


Skylab was the first United States space station, launched by NASA, occupied for about 24 weeks between May 1973 and February 1974. It was operated by three separate three-astronaut crews: Skylab 2, Skylab 3 and Skylab 4. Major operations included an orbital workshop, a solar observatory, Earth observation, and hundreds of experiments.

Unable to be re-boosted by the Space Shuttle, which was not ready until 1981, Skylab’s orbit decayed and it disintegrated in the atmosphere on July 11, 1979, scattering debris across the Indian Ocean and Western Australia.


The first British astronaut (cosmonaut) to spend time (around eight days) on a space station was Helen Sharman.

Helen Patricia Sharman, CMG, OBE, HonFRSC (born 30 May 1963 in Sheffield, UK) is a chemist who became the first British astronaut and first Western European woman in space (and in particular, the first British cosmonaut) as well as the first woman to visit the Mir space station in May 1991.

Mir was a space station that operated in low Earth orbit from 1986 to 2001, operated by the Soviet Union and later by Russia. Mir was the first modular space station and was assembled in orbit from 1986 to 1996. It had a greater mass than any previous spacecraft. At the time it was the largest artificial satellite in orbit, succeeded by the International Space Station (ISS) after Mir’s orbit decayed. The station served as a microgravity research laboratory in which crews conducted experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and spacecraft systems with a goal of developing technologies required for permanent occupation of space.


Dr Bell mentioned two important people. Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez and Guion Stewart Bluford Jr.

Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez (born January 29, 1942) is a Cuban military officer, legislator, and former cosmonaut and the first person of African heritage in space. As a member of the crew of Soyuz 38, he became the first Cuban citizen, the first Latin American, the first person of African descent, and the first person from a country in the Western Hemisphere other than the United States to travel into Earth orbit.

Soyuz 38 was a human spaceflight mission conducted by the Soviet Union during September, 1980. The Soyuz spacecraft brought two visiting crew members to the Salyut 6 space station, one of whom was an Intercosmos cosmonaut from Cuba.


A black-and-white image of the Soviet space station Salyut 6 shown with docked Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, with the Earth in the background.

Tamayo was born on January 29, 1942, in Baracoa, Guantánamo province, into a poor, humble family of Afro-Cuban descent. Orphaned as an infant, he was adopted at age 1 by Rafael Tamayo and Esperanza Méndez. He began working at age 13 as a shoeshine and vegetable vendor and later worked as a carpenter’s assistant.

He was a cosmonaut because it was mostly the Russians at the time who were going into space and Cuba and the USSR and very strong links.

Salyut 6 DOS-5, was a Soviet orbital space station, the eighth station of the Salyut programme. It was launched on 29 September 1977 by a Proton rocket. Salyut 6 was the first space station to receive large numbers of crewed and uncrewed spacecraft for human habitation, crew transfer, international participation and resupply, establishing precedents for station life and operations which were enhanced on Mir and the International Space Station.

It wasn’t until 1983, on board one of the world’s first reusable spacecrafts, the space shuttle Challenger, that the first African American went into space.

US Air Force colonel, Guion Stewart Bluford Jr.


Guion Stewart Bluford Jr. (born November 22, 1942) is an American aerospace engineer, retired U.S. Air Force officer and fighter pilot, and former NASA astronaut, who is the first African American and the second person of African descent to go to space. Before becoming an astronaut, he was an officer in the U.S. Air Force, where he remained while assigned to NASA, rising to the rank of colonel. He participated in four Space Shuttle flights between 1983 and 1992. In 1983, as a member of the crew of the Orbiter Challenger on the mission STS-8, he became the first African American in space as well as the second person of African ancestry in space, after Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez.

Now what is quite sad is that the Americans had the opportunity to send a person of colour into space, almost 20 years before. NASA almost recruited test pilot Ed Dwight for the Apollo missions.


Edward Joseph (Ed) Dwight Jr. (born September 9, 1933) is an American sculptor, author, and former test pilot. He is the first African American to have entered the Air Force training program from which NASA selected astronauts. He was controversially not selected to officially join NASA.

President Kennedy was very conscious of the racism inherent in the US at the time. America wasn’t a very friendly place for African Americans (it still isn’t terribly friendly now), for black people, people of colour. He told his officers that he wanted, in his words, a person of colour in astronaut training now. Unfortunately, not many people were behind this idea at the time, especially not those in the military. And so, unfortunately, although he was pre-selected into the training, Kennedy’s assassination meant that Dwight got pushed out of the NASA programme. So, he could have been one of the Apollo astronauts.

As a result of his selection into the training programme, before Kennedy’s assassination, the media and people got really excited that an African American was going into space.

When the astronauts were chosen for the Apollo 1 mission, Ed White received a lot of fan mail, which was supposed to be for Ed Dwight, from African Americans congratulating him on this revolutionary moment and he had to keep going to Dwight to deliver all this mail.

Quite a fun fact for what is a sad story in Dr Bell’s opinion.

But since then, we’ve seen people from all sorts of different backgrounds, going into space (providing they are healthy of course) which is the most important thing. Today you don’t have to be one type of person to go to space. And space is an international project.


The International Space Station has had visitors from many different countries to carry out research.

Dr Bell was sad that she didn’t have time to talk about all the people that had spent time on board but she did want to mention someone who had influenced her greatly. He is Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station.


Chris Austin Hadfield OC OOnt MSC CD (born August 29, 1959) is a retired CSA astronaut, engineer, and former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot. The first Canadian to walk in space, Hadfield has flown two Space Shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station.

The reason that Chris became so special to Dr Bell was that he believed he could become an astronaut before Canada even had a space agency and this very much relates to her when she was younger. When She said she wanted to become an astronaut people told her that people from Liverpool don’t become astronauts.

There is no Liverpool space agency and many people don’t even know that there is a UK space agency either.

The lesson that she got taught when she was younger was that you had to be American to go into space.


Colin Michael Foale CBE (born 6 January 1957) is a British-American astrophysicist and former NASA astronaut. He is a veteran of six space missions, and is the only NASA astronaut to have flown extended missions aboard both Mir and the International Space Station. He was the second Briton in space and the first to perform a spacewalk. Until 17 April 2008 he held the record for most time spent in space by a US citizen: 374 days, 11 hours, 19 minutes, and he still holds the cumulative-time-in-space record for a UK citizen.

Dr Foale had to take up US citizenship to go into space.

Dr Bell was inspired when she read about Chris’ desire to become an astronaut, despite there being no Canadian Space agency or Canadian Space Station

Dr Bell was also inspired by Lara Croft, a character from the computer game Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider, also known as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider between 2001 and 2008, is a media franchise that originated with an action-adventure video game series created by British gaming company Core Design.

The franchise focuses on fictional British archaeologist Lara Croft, who travels around the world searching for lost artefacts and infiltrating dangerous tombs and ruins. Gameplay generally focuses on exploration of environments, solving puzzles, navigating hostile environments filled with traps, and fighting enemies. Additional media has been developed for the franchise in the form of film adaptations, comics and novels.


Lara Croft is a fictional character and the main protagonist of the video game franchise Tomb Raider. She is presented as a highly intelligent and athletic English archaeologist who ventures into ancient tombs and hazardous ruins around the world.

To Dr Bell she was a big inspiration. A powerful female role model who didn’t need a man with her. She could fight. She knew stuff. She was Brainy. She was clever. She knew archaeology, she could explore tombs which were traditionally scary, but she was super brave and super sharp.

Another fictional motivator for Dr Bell was Dave Lister from a comedy programme called Red dwarf.


From left to right: Lister, Cat, Rimmer, and Kryten as they appeared in 2009’s Back to Earth

Red Dwarf is a British science fiction comedy franchise created by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor which primarily consists of a television sitcom that aired on BBC Two between 1988 and 1999, and on Dave since 2009, gaining a cult following.

The premise of the series follows the low-ranking technician Dave Lister, who awakens after being in suspended animation for three million years to find he is the last living human, with no crew on board the mining spacecraft Red Dwarf other than Arnold Rimmer, a hologram of Lister’s deceased bunkmate, and Cat, a life form which evolved from Lister’s pregnant cat.

What Dr Bell particularly likes was that Lister came from Liverpool and wanted to go in to space as well.

In October 2016 Dr Bell spotted the advert on Twitter (shown below).


She had just finished her PhD and was wondering what to do next with her career. At the time she was doing youth work and she had always told the young people to go and chase after their dreams. Some of the students she had helped get into college told her it was her turn now to follow her dream, which is why she decided to apply.

The BBC were looking for 12 men and women from across the UK to take part in astronaut training for a six-part documentary

She decided to go for it even though she didn’t feel qualified. She was a mathematician and had never been in the Air Force. She was so glad that she did, even though she didn’t feel confident, as she got to join the other 11 amazing people.

She was just absolutely overwhelmed to be selected and to be put in the same category as some of the cleverest people that she’d ever met.


She was incredibly happy and in nearly all the images she is in you can see her beaming away.

If you were to ask “Google” how do you become an astronaut you wouldn’t get much information.

There’s some information about NASA tests. You need to be fit with 20-20 vision. You need to have a related degree and professional experience like a PhD. Dr Bell had these things, which was great.

They like you to have 1000 hours flying time, which she didn’t have and she didn’t have the money for flying lessons either. Even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to get the hours in before starting the series.

She wasn’t really sure how to prepare for becoming an astronaut. There’s no kind of one size fits all. You can’t get a GCSE in astronaut training or anything like that. So, she didn’t know what to expect.

On day one when all the candidates turned up at this hangar, Chris Hadfield flew in on this helicopter. She was overwhelmed


Chris Hadfield gave a little speech, which was essentially, “well done for getting here, but now you’re nothing” which motivated Dr Bell but made her feel even more nervous.

Dr Bell’s first task was to get into the helicopter and make it hover above ground for as long as possible in 15 minutes. This was easier said that done as she had never been in a helicopter before, not even as a passenger.

Like all the candidates she was given some training but she had to learn the instructions as fast as possible.

Dr Bell described the training she was given, referring to the images below.

The first image below shows the set up. The second image, underneath the first, shows the collective (circled in red). Raising it makes you go up and lowering it makes you go down.

The third image shows the pedals (circled in red). If you push the left pedal you go left. If you push the right pedal you go right.





The image above has the cyclic circled in red. It does everything else.

So, this was the sum total of her training. The trainer rushed through with this and finished by asking “any questions?”

Dr Bell was trying really hard and concentrating, but felt she had a million questions and didn’t know which one to ask first.

She was really trying hard to figure out what the cyclic does and how it can do everything else besides up and down and left and right. There’s so many axes of rotation, So before she knows it she’s in the helicopter.

The cyclic is used to control the main rotor in order to change the helicopter’s direction of movement. In a hover, the cyclic controls the movement of the helicopter forward, back, and laterally. During forward flight, the cyclic control inputs cause flight path changes similar to fixed-wing aircraft flight; left or right inputs cause the helicopter to roll into a turn in the desired direction, and forward and back inputs change the pitch attitude of the helicopter resulting in altitude changes (climbing or descending flight).

Dr Bell then described her helicopter trial. In the 15 minutes allocated to her she was in control of the helicopter for 5 seconds. She thought that was pretty bad but she later found out that it wasn’t that bad at all. She came third.


The image above shows Dr Bell with her concentration face.

This was quite a hard task for day one of training. To get into a helicopter for the first time and fly it and make it hover.

She thought they were just going to get some IQ tests or some tests on a computer. She didn’t really know what to expect, but she didn’t think it was going to be that big.

She has had flying lessons since then, with the pilot in the image above, Captain Evans and has since realised that it is virtually impossible to master the hardware and learn to hover a helicopter in 15 minutes or less. So, what was the activity really testing.

It turns out that the candidates were really being tested on how well they dealt with failure. All good astronauts need to know how to deal with failure.

They need to be able to pick themselves up, keep calm and composed and carry on.

It’s not a game where they can go back to the beginning and start again. They can’t lose control of a situation. If they can’t progress in a certain direction, they need to be able to come up with a plan that moves them on, but in a different direction.

The helicopter tested how they dealt with failure and whether they had the ability to compose themselves and pick themselves up. Learn from their mistakes and carry on. A really important and valuable lesson that she wasn’t aware of.

She didn’t realise at the time that this is what she was being marked on but since then she has learned how to deal with things that are not going right.


Dr Bell got to take her own blood. She was particularly pleased about this because when she had donated blood, she had been told her veins were too small.


Tim Peake taking blood out of his own arm

Major Timothy Nigel Peake CMG (born 7 April 1972) is a British Army Air Corps officer, European Space Agency astronaut and a former International Space Station (ISS) crew member.

Peake was the first British or UK-born person to fly into space without a private contract (as did Helen Sharman, Mark Shuttleworth, and Richard Garriott) and/or foreign citizenship (held by astronauts Michael Foale, Gregory H. Johnson, Piers Sellers, Nicholas Patrick, Shuttleworth, and Garriott).

Taking blood is quite an important skill that you need to know as an astronaut because you don’t have doctors in space, you don’t have engineers in space. You are the doctor, you are the engineer, you are the scientist, you are the astronaut.

You need to learn how to check your vital signs, how to report back to Mission Control and how to just check that you’re safe and monitor everything and check that what you are doing is sensible.

Now another thing that people say you need to have if you’re going to be an astronaut is good memory and be able to recall things very quickly.

This was the first time that Dr Bell got to speak to Chris Hadfield and she was very nervous.


The test was to listen and repeat a series of numbers backwards whilst doing step ups.

For instance, you would hear the numbers 137 and repeat them backwards, 731, whilst stepping up and down. In time with the stepping up and down. So up, say 7, down, up, say 3, down and say 1, down. However, after each successful statement the number of digits increased. In the image below Dr Bell had to remember 6 digits backwards.


Dr Bell then invited her audience to have a go, whilst doing something that distracts their brain, like walking on the spot. She gave the number 431749. I decided not to do it as I am 61 and I have no desire to go into space.


If the audience were successful, they should have recited 947134

Even if you have no desire to go into space it is actually quite good for your brain to remember things. We’re quite lazy nowadays because we have all of our phone numbers in our phones.

I’m quite old fashioned in that I like to do some calculations in my head. It used to infuriate me when my students used to get their calculators out to do simple sums. We rely on technology a bit too much.

Dr Bell suggested to the audience that they test themselves by learning telephone numbers and repeating them backwards.

The reason for the candidates doing an activity whilst reciting the numbers backwards was because this wasn’t just to test their memory but to test their balance.

It may seem a bit funny but when you’re in space and you’ve got to recall a lot of information you might be upside down. There might be things happening in the background that are very distracting. You may have to recall information from half way through because you got called away for something else. You can’t afford to go back to the beginning.

If there’s an emergency you need to identify the problem straight away. You can’t just wander about checking random things. This is why the candidates were made to recall the digits in reverse order.

Another thing that astronauts need to be comfortable with is small spaces. The ISS is quite small. So, the astronauts need to be able to squeeze past each other and fit into small crevices

Equipment is tightly packed away so they may have rummage around in small spaces to find a particular tool.

To test how the candidates coped with small spaces thy had to sit in closed egg-shaped objects and count for 20 minutes. Inside it was completely dark and sound proofed


They didn’t have watches so they didn’t know how long the 20 minutes lasted. Luckily Dr Bell did have a coping mechanism that she used during her worst lessons in school.

She invited the audience to think about what they would do in a similar situation for 20 minutes. I would like to do my times-table.

Dr Bell wondered if the audience would be creative. Would they just count. Would they do something with their hands, such as plait hair.

Up to this point Dr Bell had been doing well but then the candidates were asked to do an underwater survival experience. The reason for this is that astronauts need to be prepared if their spacecraft plunges into water and they end up under water.


Now this was absolutely terrifying for her. At school she had been very good at things like maths, but not very good at swimming. She would use the excuse that she needed to work on her maths rather than swimming. That is how she got so good at maths but didn’t really know how to swim.

In the picture above she is about to get flipped under water. She needs to break the window that has the cross on it, swim through it and reach the surface. During this time the capsule is sinking.

By this point, the water is about to come up to her chest because the capsule is flipping over.

She remembers breathing in some water when sort of swimming to the surface and falling back down because of all the heavy gear she was wearing.

She did panic a bit in the water. This was quite a serious concern for someone who wants to become an astronaut. Luckily, she got away with it because Chris saw her actions as brave but he also said he thought it was kind of irresponsible as well for her to endanger the crewmates.

Some might wonder why this activity was important as there is no water in space or on the Moon. Why do you need to be able to swim?


Back in the Apollo days the astronauts landed in the ocean. So, some of the images above show the Apollo astronauts in training.

Splashdown is the method of landing a spacecraft by parachute in a body of water. It was used by crewed American spacecraft prior to the Space Shuttle program, and by the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft starting in 2010, and is planned for use by the upcoming Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle.


U.S. Navy personnel, protected by Biological Isolation Garments, are recovering the Apollo 11 crew from a re-entry vehicle, which landed safely in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969, after an eight-day mission on the moon. (AP Photo)AP

Astronauts have just returned from a mission and landed in the ocean wearing lots of heavy gear and quite weak after being in zero gravity. They might have landed upside down or something has happened to the capsule. They need to be able to swim until someone comes to rescue them

So, this is why swimming is very, very important. A lot of the training is done underwater. It’s like learning to scuba dive.


The Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) is an astronaut training facility and neutral buoyancy pool operated by NASA and located at the Sonny Carter Training Facility, near the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The NBL’s main feature is a large indoor pool of water, in which astronauts may perform simulated EVA tasks in preparation for upcoming missions. Trainees wear suits designed to provide neutral buoyancy to simulate the microgravity that astronauts would experience during spaceflight.

The candidates got to “play” with a prototype Mars Rover.

Airbus SE is a European multinational aerospace corporation. The ‘SE’ in the name means it is a societas Europaea, which enables it to be registered as European rather than Dutch. As of 2019, Airbus is the world’s largest airliner manufacturer and took the most airliner orders. Airbus is registered in the Netherlands; its shares are traded in France, Germany and Spain. It designs, manufactures and sells civil and military aerospace products worldwide and manufactures aircraft in the European Union and various other countries. The company has three divisions: Commercial Aircraft (Airbus S.A.S.), Defence and Space, and Helicopters, the third being the largest in its industry in terms of revenues and turbine helicopter deliveries.


The rover was an early prototype of the Rosalind Franklin rover.


It has been named in honour of the UK scientist Rosalind Franklin.

Rosalind Elsie Franklin (25 July 1920 – 16 April 1958) was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, coal, and graphite. Although her works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA were largely recognised posthumously.

Rosalind Franklin, previously known as the ExoMars rover, is a planned robotic Mars rover, part of the international ExoMars programme led by the European Space Agency and the Russian Roscosmos State Corporation. The mission was scheduled to launch in July 2020, but was postponed to 2022.

The plan calls for a Russian launch vehicle, an ESA carrier model, and a Russian lander named Kazachok, that will deploy the rover to Mars’ surface. Once it has safely landed, the solar powered rover will begin a seven-month (218-sol) mission to search for the existence of past life on Mars. The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), launched in 2016, will operate as the data-relay satellite of Rosalind Franklin and the lander.


In July 2018, the European Space Agency launched a public outreach campaign to choose a name for the rover. On 7 February 2019, the ExoMars rover was named Rosalind Franklin in honour of scientist Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), who made key contributions to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), RNA (ribonucleic acid), viruses, coal, and graphite.

On the front of the rover is a drill. It will drill down two metres looking for life. The reason for two metres is that Mars has very little atmosphere and is bombarded with UV rays from the sun all the time, UV rays would have killed any life that there might be on the surface.

Hopefully the UV light won’t have penetrated so far down. It is quite exciting for those people who want to find life on other planets.

The candidates had another swim task which involved doing something with blocks and Dr Bell manage to coordinate the activity, but you can tell she isn’t happy in the water.


Dr Bell did her best and when she left the competition, she made a commitment to learn to swim.

A point she wanted to get across to her audience was to keep practising things, even if they don’t like them, until they become good at them. They might even start enjoying them.

It might be a subject in school that you hate. If you practice it and do your homework well then, you’ll start to love it.

Dr Bell started learning Russian two years ago and she feels that she isn’t really very good, but she is persevering. She is practising the language and her swimming and she is getting better at both of them.

One day she expects to enjoy both of them

Her message to her audience is to keep going at a task and eventually they will enjoy it.


Dr Bell at Airbus with some more prototype rovers after she had left the competition. The skinny one is like that because it is replicating the weight of the rover on Mars, as Mars has less gravity than Earth.

Dr Bell didn’t reach the final of the competition but she carried on with some of the activities. She got to go in a centrifuge at the centrifuge training centre and reached 4.5g. She found it very exciting but it had an impact on how she breathed.


Normally you don’t think about breathing but she had to breathe in a really, really funny way to make sure she was taking in enough oxygen.

She got to meet Apollo astronaut Al Worden, who sadly passed away in 2020.


Colonel Alfred Merrill Worden USAF (February 7, 1932 – March 18, 2020) was an American test pilot, engineer and NASA astronaut who was the command module pilot for the Apollo 15 lunar mission in 1971. One of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon, he orbited it 74 times in the command module (CM) Endeavour.

Dr Bell felt it was an absolute honour to meet him.

She got to try on a spacesuit, which was probably the most expensive thing she’s ever worn. She was told to take off because she was going to overheat as she wasn’t wearing the piece of clothing that regulates body temperature.


There is a new space race but it’s not between the US and Russia. It’s between commercial companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic

It’s all very exciting. Some of these things will be happening in the UK with our new UK launch sites.

The UK has thriving satellite businesses. So, there will lots of opportunities for young people in the future.


There are plans for a return to the Moon. Elon Musk has plans for a Moon Base and there are plans for a lunar gateway which is going to be a bit like the International Space Station.

The Lunar Gateway, or simply the Gateway, is a planned small space station in lunar orbit intended to serve as a solar-powered communication hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots.


Traveling to and from cislunar space (lunar orbit) is intended to develop the knowledge and experience necessary to venture beyond the Moon and into deep space.

The lunar gateway would be brilliant for astronauts to pop down to the Moon to pick up samples and then return to do the research. A bit like a lunar hotel where you visit the Moon rather than a beach.

There will be trips to Mars. The Rosalind Franklin rover will be looking for life and at some point, astronauts will go there.

Elon Musk launched a car into space

Perhaps someday there will be a way for humans to go beyond our solar system.


Hopefully the James Webb Space Telescope will be launching in October 2021, if everything goes ahead as planned. It will enable us to see astronomical objects in more detail than we’ve ever seen before, which could give us evidence of any Earth like planets. This is very exciting and whether we go there is up to young people. Because we need more scientists, engineer and technicians.

Creative and arty people are needed, but just because they are artistic it doesn’t mean they can’t do maths and science. The arts can enhance the sciences.

We need people like Katherine Johnson.

Creola Katherine Johnson (née Coleman; August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020) was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. During her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. The space agency noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist”


The Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to Johnson in 2015.

We need to create reusable technology so we don’t have to worry about polluting space with all of the junk that’s being sent up there now in all the planned exciting missions.

You don’t have to be an astronaut to have a career in space.

Questions and answers

1) How much did it cost to build the very large telescope?

I believe it was around about $2 billion. It went over budget a little bit.

2) Do you believe in aliens?

I get asked this quite a lot. And I think as a scientist, I’m supposed to say no. But I just really love the idea of there being life out there. You know, I think it’s just fascinating and I love all these science fiction movies. I love reading sci fi and I just think, you know, if you were to read those books 100 years ago about going to the moon, you would have said it was absolute nonsense and now it happens. And so, I just really hope that we come into contact with extra-terrestrial life. Whether they will be microbes or whether they will be forms that are like us. Whether they think like us, whether they can build things like us. Perhaps they’re amazing scientists and engineers, I would say I would like to believe is going to be my answer. I would really love it to happen.

3) Does the James Webb Telescope magnify as much as the Hubble telescope or as it hasn’t been launched yet have scientists tried to make it magnify more?

Okay, so, with the James Webb Space Telescope, you have 18 hexagonal mirrors that are all stuck together. But the problem with the James Webb Space Telescope, or rather the creative problem with the James Webb Space Telescope is that it’s so big that it doesn’t fit inside any of the rockets that we have built. And so, what scientists, mathematicians and engineers have had to do is come up with a creative way for the telescope to unfold itself when it’s in space. So, it goes to space all folded up and then when it gets a good few miles out it will start to unfold it’s shield and then unfold it’s mirror because, of course, it needs to shield from the sun so it doesn’t affect its pictures. But in terms of the magnifying power. It’s stronger than the Hubble telescope. But this doesn’t mean that the Hubble telescope will be obsolete. The Hubble telescope still provides us with great images. And the James Webb Space Telescope will look more into the infrared region. So, it just looks at a different type of light source which will hopefully reveal any stars that are hidden behind gas clouds and things like that that which look black to us in space. With the James Webb Space Telescope, we should be able to see them. So, we can look forward to some fantastic images.

4) Why are there mice on the space station today?

I don’t know about them being on there right now, at this moment, but I remember reading about this in one of the astronaut’s biographies. About there be mice so they can do tests on them like they do tests on themselves. Taking blood samples, looking at their muscle mass, their bone density and just seeing how they react to microgravity.

I know someone asked me what microgravity is. It’s when there’s not very much gravity. So little that you get that floating effect. So, when people say there’s no gravity there is gravity. It’s just very, very small.

So, the mice are up there to see how they react to microgravity and to see how their blood is and just to see if there’s any long-term effects over a few years, as humans haven’t spent more than a year on the ISS yet.

5) How did people choose which type of animal would be the first to be sent to space.

I don’t know how they chose. I think with the with the chimpanzee, they picked an animal that had DNA very similar to our own. I’m not sure why they sent the fruit flies. I’ve probably read it somewhere. But I can’t remember off the top my head so maybe that’s a little, a little research project for the people watching today, to find out why. I think with the dogs in Russia, it was just that they were on the street and they could send them and no one will be too angry because they weren’t anyone’s pets. I thought the Tortoises going to the moon was very peculiar, but quite interesting. Why they sent them? I don’t know. So, perhaps another project for our viewers maybe.

6) Okay, next question was, how old was the youngest woman in the mercury 13?

Oh, I don’t know that either. That’s a really good question. I didn’t think to look that up.

7) What are space suits made from?

Lots of different materials. I couldn’t really pinpoint one or two. An interesting fact with the spacesuit is that the bodies come in one or two sizes. So, for a long time they weren’t built for women. Women couldn’t do spacewalks because they couldn’t fit into the suits. The suits were too bulky and the gloves were too big. Now they have something like 60 different sizes of gloves. I can’t give a specific answer about materials. Perhaps another research project for you to have a look at, let me know.

8) How do you get involved with the Space Industries, as you mentioned before, alongside the new English launching sites?

If you want to get involved the UK space agency actually has some great projects that involve young people. And then you’ve got ESA, ESA kids as well and loads for ESA projects. We are still involved with the European Space Agency, despite the Brexit situation.

The UK space agency deals with the UK astronauts and all our space development. So, they’ll have played a small part in the building of the James Webb Space Telescope and all of the satellites that we are launching or thinking about launching so I would check the UK space agency in the first instance. There’s also a site called UK space careers which has a lot of information on it

There is the STFC, of course, who are involved in a lot of the building of the scientific equipment that will go into space as well as telescopes that are on the ground. So, I would check out their resources.

Keep an eye on social media, follow the news. NASA has got its own space channels as well so you can watch launches when they are live.

For UK launch sites, just keep an eye out. There are two confirmed so far. One is in Newquay in Cornwall and the other one at the very top of Scotland. They’re going to be doing orbital launches which go from the top of Scotland over the planet in such a way to make sure they don’t hit any places where people live. So, it’s just keeping an eye out for now, but they are being built, and they are being funded by the UK space agency.

There is also the National Space Centre Space Academy.

If you’re at that age where you’re picking your GCSE options and you’re wondering what to study, you can go to the National Space Academy as well. They’ve got special space courses that you can do, such as becoming a space engineer at quite a young age, which is great.

Someone has looked on Google and found out that the youngest woman in the mercury 13 was Wally Funk and she was 23.

9) Have you ever been to space?

I haven’t. Not yet, but I’m not giving up even though we’re in this pandemic. Up until March last year I was still training. I was still learning to fly. I still do my Russian lessons and I still go swimming every day, even though I don’t like it as much as other sports.

I’ve been doing lots of other training as well. As I mentioned before I went on the centrifuge. I’m still trying to train to get to space.

Certain things such as my flying lessons have been put on hold but I’m hoping that things will be back too normal soon.

I’m just waiting for the European Space Agency to open their applications. In order to apply for a job, they have to send out an application. I’m just waiting for the advert, which hopefully will be very soon. It’s a long time (2009) since Tim Peake was selected for his mission. 12 years ago, so I think it’s about time.

Fingers crossed. I will keep you updated

10) How much can you earn as an astronaut or a space scientist.

You earn slightly more as an astronaut than as a researcher or a scientist. I think the thing that you need to consider is not everyone is going to be Elon Musk. Not everyone is going to become a multi-millionaire through science and engineering.

Most scientists and engineers do this work because it’s what they love. And I think if it’s what you desire, then you don’t really even think about, about the pay.

Don’t go into a career as a scientist if you want to be rich. Do it because you love the science. As an entry career scientist or a PhD student with funding you could get around £15k to £18k a year. Then when you’ve done your PhD and you have become a research assistant or a postdoc then it would go up to around £30k, it depends what part of the country you’re in. London pays a bit more.

If you work overseas you could be paid more. If you become an academic you would get paid more. It really depends on your experience.

UK astronauts get paid around £50k (NASA pays more). The more experience you have, the more missions you’ve flown, the more you get paid.

11) Do you think that space travel will happen soon and be accessible to everyone.

I hope so. I’ve mentioned Elon Musk. There are a lot of commercial companies that are getting into spaceflight, launching satellites and astronauts

There’s talk of space tourism from companies such as Virgin Galactic. So, space is definitely becoming more accessible because of commercial organisations getting involved. Businesses are getting involved meaning that we don’t need to rely on NASA, Roscosmos or the European Space Agency.

So, it is going to be more accessible and affordable. But it’s not going to be affordable for everyone straight away.

I guess it’s like lots of things when they are first brought out. The first computers cost thousands of pounds. It was very expensive and only the elite had a personal computer. Now nearly everyone has a computer or a device.

So, the cost of space travel should come down. With the introduction of reusable boosters, as used in Falcon nine, the company is saving money and it makes space travel cheaper.


Falcon 9 is a partially reusable two-stage-to-orbit medium-lift launch vehicle designed and manufactured by SpaceX in the United States.

Re-using the rocket in a successful way makes it cheaper for everyone. So, the cheaper it becomes, the more accessible it will be for people like us.

12) What are your thoughts about the gas found on Venus, which shows that they could be life?

This was in the clouds wasn’t it. They thought there might be microbes in the clouds. I haven’t read anything more since that initial mention on the news. So, I will have to look that up. I forgot about it actually. It sort of fell off the radar, but I think it’s exciting. I was super excited when it was first announced, and I hope that it leads to more information. I really do. As I say, I would absolutely love to find there are aliens.

13) What are you doing next in your career?

So currently, I’m at Imperial College. I work in the department of computing. I get to work with lots of academics and students in an area that’s very different to what I trained in, in maths and theoretical physics. So, it’s a nice learning curve for me. I want to gain more coding experience and, of course, I want to gain my pilot’s license. I want to do as much Russian as I can. Hopefully one day I will get to go to Russia, visit Moscow and try and practice my Russian skills and see how good I am.

For me right now. I’m just trying to take every opportunity because I think that every opportunity, even if it doesn’t seem useful at the time, might help my career in the future.

So, I was on the cheerleading team at university because I absolutely loved it. I think it’s a great sport and I think that a lot of people don’t appreciate how much of a great sport it is. I was part of the team and the other girls were like family to me.

I didn’t realise the skills that I was building while I was on that team, the team work, the trust, the discipline, being active, would help me when I was on the astronauts show, for example, all of the teamwork skills.

And the balance, for example, I had great balance as a cheerleader. So something that you think is very unrelated can become very related later on.

So, I’m just taking every opportunity as it comes. And then, as I say, hopefully, waiting for ESA to open applications and then I’ll be I’ll be applying

14) If anyone’s got any other questions. I’m on social media. So, for the younger ones, ask moms and dads and maybe you can use their accounts. You can drop me a message if I haven’t answered your question. I’m happy to answer it on Twitter or Instagram or one of those channels.

3 thoughts on “Becoming an astronaut

  1. Thanks for the awesomely complete narrative, it reflects well the care and energy you invested in it.

    Unfortunately you didn’t adequately check some current mass media narratives about Ed Dwight, that seem to largely reflect intentions to get contemporary political mileage out of racial resentments.

    “[JFK] told his officers that he wanted, in his words, a person of colour in astronaut training now. Unfortunately, not many people were behind this idea at the time, especially not those in the military. And so, unfortunately, although he was pre-selected into the training, Kennedy’s assassination meant that Dwight got pushed out of the NASA programme. So, he could have been one of the Apollo astronauts.”

    There’s no evidence military or NASA personnel opposed such an idea on racist grounds, there were some concerns about skill levels. Dwight was NEVER selected into ‘astronaut training’, he got into two USAF test pilot training programs and graduated just fine, ranked 8th out of 16 in the second class. Only the tp 2 were picked by NASA. JFK’s assassination had zero influence, the second class was always due to end in December 1963. Dwight was NEVER ‘pushed out’ of the NASA program. As for him becoming one of the Apollo astronauts, what they don’t tell you is that although at 5’03” he was just below the minimum USAF height requirements, he was three inches too short to safely fly the Apollo Lunar Module. These omissions could well be intentionally misleading, please don’t be an innocent accessory in promulgating false information.


    1. Thank you for pointing this out. I can only say that the information came from the initial talk and the internet. It was also mentioned in a documentary I watched on the BBC in 2019 during the celebrations of the 1969 Moon landings. Considering the treatment of African Americans in the 1960s I wouldn’t be surprised if there had been ways of preventing him from joining the program if he was completely qualified. As for not checking my facts thoroughly enough, you have a point, but I am writing up notes from a lecture. In the lecture, the speaker outlined Dwight’s treatment and I just added a bit of background.


    2. Dear James, I have sent your comment to the person who gave the lecture. I would just like to add that if there is no evidence that NASA opposed Dwight it also means that there is no evidence that they did. Helen


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