Katherine Bennell-Pegg: First Australian Woman to Train as an Astronaut

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Space Impulse is dedicated to highlighting how women are changing the space industr y— from featuring Nicola Baumann, Germany’s first female astronaut, to Katya Echazarreta, the first female astronaut that is Mexican-born — we will always strive to cover their achievements and goals.

Next month, Katherine Bennell-Pegg will become the first Australian woman to train as an astronaut. To find out more about this remarkable individual, Behind the News (BTN), a current affairs program targeting upper-primary students in Australia and part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, interviewed Bennell-Pegg about the training and her desire to inspire young Aussies to go to space.

12-month Training

“The Australian Space Agency and European Space Agency agreed to train me as Australia’s first astronaut candidate, which is so great. I’m so excited,” said Bennell-Pegg in an interview at the Australian Space Discovery Centre in Adelaide.

Her next step will be a year of training in Germany, which could lead to her going into space one day.

“The thing that excites me the most about going to space is the fact that I’d be helping teams of scientists and engineers on Earth make new discoveries,” said Bennell-Pegg. “From the eye in the sky up there you can see all sorts of phenomena around the world. You can look at the environment, you can look at refugee movements, and you can detect bushfires and floods and help warn people about them. I’d also love to see the earth from space. Earth looks fragile and I think that’s a really important perspective to getting up there.”

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When the interviewer asked the trainee astronaut if she would be trained to walk on the moon one day, Bennell-Pegg answered with humour:

Will they teach me how to moonwalk? As long as it’s not the dance version. I’m a bit uncoordinated that way.”

Benell-Pegg then talked about the spacewalk training that astronauts do underwater, so they can learn how to move in zero gravity.

The next question was the all-important one. How did she get to where she is today and what inspired her to take the path she has chosen?

“Well, I’ve always loved space. I grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney which have a beautiful bright starry sky at night and I used to love being out in the garden looking at the stars. And when I realized that those stars weren’t just pinpricks of light but were planets or entire galaxies, a whole new world waiting to be explored, I wanted to have that adventure, I wanted to be the one exploring them.”

Australia’s first female trainee astronaut then told the story about one of her career counselling sessions at school, and how she said the class was told to write down three different things the students would like to be.

“I wrote down one — astronaut — and refuse to write anymore,” she said with pride.

Need for More Women

Only 11% of astronauts have been women, and females make up less than 30% of STEM workers, according to UN statistics, so it is vital to encourage more young women to pursue STEM subjects and careers, something Bennell-Pegg is passionate about.

“We need all sorts of creativity and thought in order to solve all the problems that we need to solve through space. As a woman in the space industry, I’ve absolutely been in the minority for most of my career, but this hasn’t held me back at all,” said Bennell-Pegg, adding that there have been occasions when people were trying to bring her down a little bit. “I think that by just doing your best and showing what you’re capable of, people very quickly see that everyone’s equal and everyone has ideas to contribute.”

And then the inevitable question came, one that astronauts must be sick of answering at interviews: “Do you believe in aliens?”

“I absolutely believe in aliens. There are so many stars in the sky. The probability of there being life out there is so huge, they probably look like little bacteria. I’m not really sure. But I think it would be really wonderful to discover life elsewhere in our solar system because that helps us understand how life was created.”

SOURCE: Behind the News (BTN)

Featured image: Credit: “Aussie Astronaut Katherine Bennell-Pegg – Behind the News”

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