Australia's first female astronaut will join European Space Agency’s reserve

Australia’s first female astronaut joins European Space Agency’s reserve


Dr Meganne Christian has become Australia’s first female astronaut, and the country’s fourth, after being selected among 17 astronauts as part of this year’s European Space Agency (ESA) cohort. 

The 34-year old UK-born materials scientist and atmospheric physicist was selected from more than 22,500 applicants. She will commence a year-long basic training programme at the ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in 2023.

“It’s something I’ve been working towards for a long time,” Dr Christian said in an interview with the ESA recently. 

“Being able to advance research in these highly technological fields (and) putting forward important scientific research. I think every kid wants to be an astronaut – it started back when I was a kid as well.” 

Dr Christian will join ten other reservist astronauts who will receive a consultancy contract and astronaut training from the ESA.

Her cohort at the ESA will focus on both the construction of an outpost orbiting the moon, and missions to the moon’s surface. The ESA has worked closely with NASA and its Artemis mission to put humans back on the moon, and hopes to put some of their own astronauts on the moon in the near future.

Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic said the young scientist’s achievement is further evidence of the extraordinary scientific talent that Australia generates through its education and university system. 

“We know we need more young Australians, particularly women and people from diverse backgrounds, to enter the STEM workforce,” Husic said. “Role models like Dr Christian will help show girls and young women that they can dream big.”

“Space programs are so much more than taking ‘giant leaps’, as inspiring as they are. Much of the work that is done by astronauts is on applied space medicine and science, which supports Earth-based research applications, advancing health, engineering and sustainability.”

Dr Christian emigrated to Australia at the age of five and attended Illawarra Grammar School in Wollongong before going on to study engineering at the University of New South Wales. 

UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Attila Brungs said it was a privilege to see one of the University’s alumni achieve such unique success.

“We are enormously proud of Meganne and wholeheartedly congratulate her on this prestigious appointment,” Prof. Brungs said. “She is an inspiration to future scientists and has really shown us the sky’s the limit.”

As well as holding UK citizenship, Dr Christian is also a citizen of Italy and New Zealand.

She has worked at the Italian National Research Agency as a graphene and hydrogen storage specialist since 2014 and has previously spent time as a scientist at the Antarctic research base at Concordia Station.

She is also an avid knitter, often posting her creations on her social media platforms.

Enrico Palermo, Head of Australian Space Agency, said Dr Christian’s achievement will inspire the next generation of young Australians immensely. 

“We often refer to space as the gateway to STEM because of its ability to ignite curiosity – and what does that more than knowing someone who grew up right here in Australia might one day end up in space,” Palermo said

“This also presents a great opportunity for Australia to build on our relationship with the European Space Agency and UK Space Agency.”

Dr Christian is just Australia’s fourth ever astronaut – coming after Philip K. Chapman, Paul Scully-Power and Andy Thomas, all of whom were NASA astronauts.


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