The North East branch organised a visit to the North East with BBC’s ‘Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?’ winner, Dr Suzie Imber – Associate Professor in planetary science based at the University of Leicester who is currently studying the magnetosphere of Mercury.
Suzie visited five schools – Ponteland High School; St. Mary’s Catholic School, Newcastle; Woodham Academy, Newton Aycliffe; St. Augustine’s R.C. Primary School, Darlington and Yarm School – as part of her visit delivering inspirational talks on how she got her current role, and how her experiences helped prepare her for the tests she had to go through as part of the BBC show. Additionally, she attended a NE branch event at Shildon Locomotion Museum in County Durham to meet local branch members and committee. This talk was set next to a backdrop of Tim Peake’s Soyuz Capsule which is currently touring the country. Attendees also had the option to hear a talk on the Soyuz Capsule and try out a virtual reality experience.
During her presentation, Suzie talked about how she always wanted to be an explorer, and this led to her interest in space – which she described as a type of modern day exploring – with the added benefit of doing science.
Playing lacrosse and rowing at an elite level, alongside being a keen mountaineer, helped provide Suzie with the skills to handle physically demanding challenges during the programme, including teamwork skills. Suzie also talked about how she uses her mountaineering skills as part of her job, as she was able to travel to places that others couldn’t reach and bring back samples that haven’t been affected by humans. This was also helped by using a super computer to write a code that would locate mountains that hadn’t been climbed before.
Completing a PhD and years of research in physics, including previously working at NASA, helped Suzie with more mentally taxing activities in the programme, such as the various psychological tests that she and her fellow contestants had to undertake, from staying calm and following instructions while strapped into a capsule filling with water, to thinking fast during a grueling interview panel.
Other challenges Suzie took part in included a spacecraft docking simulation, escaping from a capsule underwater and having to take her own blood. One of the more fun challenges included working to take a photo in periods of no gravity in a plane, in which all the contestants regularly bump into each other and struggle to coordinate themselves in zero gravity.
Suzie’s prize for winning the programme is a recommendation from former Astronaut Chris Hadfield to the European Space Agency when the next call for astronauts goes out. This should give her a better chance in being selected for real training to be an astronaut.
Meanwhile, Suzie is currently studying the magnetosphere of Mercury, a planet we still know very little about. It is a major challenge to even get a spacecraft to enter orbit around Mercury, due to the proximity of the Sun’s huge gravitational field. Scientific instruments will be sent to space later this year in the BepiColumbo Mission, using two spacecraft: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter (MMO), which will be launched in October this year and reach Mercury in 2025.