Dr. Norah Patten – on a Mission

21st June 2024

Posted In: Newsflash

Virgin Galactic has announced a new contract with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (“IIAS”) to fly three research astronauts as part of a future crew aboard the Company’s Delta Class spaceship.

The IIAS astronaut crew expected to participate in the research mission includes our very own Dr. Norah Patten an aeronautical engineer and bioastronautics researcher from Mayo, together with Kellie Gerardi, a bioastronautics researcher and IIAS Director of Human Spaceflight Operations from the U.S; and Dr. Shawna Pandya, a physician, aquanaut, bioastronautics researcher, and Director of IIAS’s Space Medicine Group, from Canada.

Dr. Norah Patten will be the first Irish person in space.

 This will be the second research mission that IIAS has conducted with Virgin Galactic. It follows ‘Galactic 05’ in November 2023, which tested novel healthcare technologies and examined how fluids behaved in low gravity to help inform designs for future medical technologies and life-support systems. The mission is anticipated to take place within the first year of Delta commercial service, which remains on track to commence in 2026.

“We were thrilled with the results from our fluid cell experiment on ‘Galactic 05’, which demonstrated our ability to accurately predict the behavior of fluid in a container in a weightless environment. We’ll be expanding on that research for our next mission, and I’ll be working to demonstrate our ability to control the behavior of the liquid as well,” said astronaut and IIAS Director of Human Spaceflight Operations Kellie Gerardi. “The quality and repeatability of the microgravity environment provided by Virgin Galactic’s system is truly game-changing and the potential for a ‘fly, fix, fly’ approach opens the door to many exciting possibilities for IIAS to make discoveries that benefit future explorers.”

The mission is designed to enable IIAS to introduce new research while also expanding upon the results from ‘Galactic 05’, during which astronaut Kellie Gerardi was able to successfully validate a fluid behavior theory within the high-quality microgravity conditions available through Virgin Galactic’s unique flight system. The IIAS crew plans to fly additional fluid cells, with payload enhancements including upgrades to camera quality and accelerometer measurements.

“We’re excited to continue our partnership with IIAS in an expanded capacity,” said Virgin Galactic Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations, Sirisha Bandla. “Our suborbital science lab is revolutionizing the field of microgravity research by offering routine, reliable access to space – and it’s great to see institutions like IIAS begin to build iterative and innovative campaigns around suborbital space-based research.”

Virgin Galactic’s Delta Class spaceships can be configured to fly either six mission specialists, or four specialists and two additional payload racks, depending on customer needs. More information will be shared regarding further mission specialists and payloads joining the IIAS crew on this spaceflight as the manifest expands.

Each Delta spaceship is currently estimated to be capable of flying up to eight space missions per month, which is twelve times the monthly capacity of the Company’s original spaceship, VSS Unity. The new spaceship fleet is anticipated to dramatically increase repeatable and reliable access to the microgravity environment.

The Irish Interest

In a post earlier, Dr. Patten said she was ‘Immensely grateful, proud and excited’ to be able to share the news and thanked Virgin Galactic, IIAS and her fellow crewmates.

Dr. Patten is an aeronautical engineer and bioastronautics researcher with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS). Her extensive research experience includes multiple microgravity research campaigns, commercial spacesuit testing and evaluation, and emergency egress operations. She was the PI of an experiment investigating the aerosolization of water droplets in microgravity, and tested a novel 3D bioprinter investigating novel solutions for skin grafts in weightlessness.

Norah is an award-winning author and STEM advocate and is passionate about inspiring the next generation. In 2019, Norah released her children’s book called ‘Shooting for the Stars’ and it won the An Post Children’s Book of the Year, senior. She was awarded the IIAS Educator Award in 2018, was a recipient of the Emerging Space Leaders Grant and a Next Generation Plenary panelist at the International Astronautical Congress in 2015. Through a partnership with NanoRacks and the Irish Composites Centre, Norah created and managed ‘The Only Way is Up’ project which launched Ireland’s first student experiment to the International Space Station in 2014, in which she was also the co-PI. Norah participated in the International Space University Space Studies Program in 2010, holds a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Limerick, participated in the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers Program, and has industrial experience from The Boeing Company and Bell Labs Alcatel Lucent.

Norah is a former global faculty member at the International Space University (ISU), and currently works in Dublin at Réaltra Space Systems Engineering. Norah’s spaceflight will make her the first Irish astronaut and the IIAS-02 Mission will be her first spaceflight.

Pictured: Dr. Shawna Pandya, Kellie Gerardi and Dr. Norah Patten (Image source: Virgin Galactic)