Meganne Christian: An Evening with a Future Astronaut
Humans have a certain amount of creativity and adaptability, [more] than robots. The synergy of robots and humans is the future of space exploration.
Embark on a captivating journey into the realm of space exploration as we unravel the remarkable story of Meganne Christian, a trailblazer whose unconventional path led her to the stars. With a degree in Engineering from UNSW Sydney, Meganne's path took her to the ends of the Earth as a scientist in Antarctica. From there she soared even higher, earning a coveted spot as an astronaut in reserve, with dreams of venturing into the cosmos.
Hear Meganne in conversation with Aude Vignelles as they discuss her extraordinary journey as a reservist astronaut, the rigorous selection process, and both the physical and mental training required to be part of this elite group, as well as the importance of space research and its impact on our everyday lives.
Presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and UNSW Engineering as a part of National Science Week, and supported by the Powerhouse’s Sydney Science Festival.
UNSW Centre for Ideas: UNSW Centre for Ideas
Aude Vignelles: Good evening and welcome for this special event tonight, Meganne Christian: An Evening with a Future Astronaut. It’s not everyday we have an event like that. This event is presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and UNSW Science as part of the National Science Week.
My name is Aude Vignelles, I’m the Chief Technology Officer of the Australian Space Agency – for people who don’t know, yes, we do have a space agency in Australia, finally. We’re five years old. We’ve already done quite a lot of projects. In our role in the city office we are scoping the future mission for Australia. We are looking at the capability that Australia has in space – there are many of them. And one of the projects we are doing is the rover we’re going to send to the moon with NASA.
I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owner of the lands on which we are meeting tonight, the Bidjigal people and I would like to pay my respects to their elders, present, past and future. And I would also like to extend that respect to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are with us tonight.
So tonight I have the immense privilege to introduce Meganne Christian to you. And I say privilege because it is a privilege. It is not everyday you are meeting someone of the calibre of Meganne Christian. She’s very unique. Meganne was selected as a reservist in the European Space Agency Astronauts Corps, representing the UK Space Agency in 2022.
She was one of only 17 people chosen from 22,500 eligible participants. I repeat that – 17 out of 22,500 people. So that’s a tough selection and that makes her a very very special person. She’s now leading the commercialisation of space exploration for the UK Space Agency. So following Meganne’s talk I will join her for a bit of conversation, you will be welcome to ask your own questions as well. But for now, please join me in welcoming Meganne Christian to the stage.
Meganne Christian: Hello, good evening. So, I'm gonna talk a little bit about what has brought me to this point. The title of my talk is From Antarctica to Space, and, but there is a lot of stuff before that as well.
So, these are some pictures of what it looks like during the day in the middle of winter in Antarctica. Unfortunately, I didn't take these photos. These were taken by some of my excellent colleagues during my winter over.
So, just to give a bit of background on me, I made the mistake of putting my age up on the screen. But I was born in the UK. My family moved to Australia when I was five years old. Grew up in Wollongong, and then came to UNSW for, to do a Bachelor of Engineering in Industrial Chemistry, and then a PhD. So, I was kind of bribed to do a PhD by my supervisor. He gave me chocolate and the promise of overseas travel, and apparently, that was enough to decide me to do a PhD. And after that I was looking for some kind of postdoc international. I wanted some international experience.
So, I found a position in Bologna in Italy, and I went over there for what was supposed to be a one to two-year postdoc, ended up living there for nine years. And then just a couple of months ago, as Aude said, I moved to the UK and I'm working for the UK Space Agency. A bit of background. So, this was me, this was me as a young bachelor's student. I had the chance to have a co-op scholarship, so I got to go to industry. I had some industrial training placements at Sydney Water, Siemen's Water Technologies, and BlueScope Steel. I don't know if there are any co-op scholars in the audience, but it was a fantastic. Yes, nice. It was a fantastic opportunity to get some industrial experience. But in the end, I decided to do a PhD. This is my group as it was at the time. It was very small. My supervisor has since been stolen by the University of Sydney I believe. But I did my PhD in hydrogen storage technologies.
So, you can see a few photos from my time at university. It wasn't all about studying. I also spent a lot of time doing university reviews. This was me on the lighting desk at the Science Theatre. I spent a lot of time singing. That's one of my favourite hobbies. I still do it today. I also like adventure sports. Whitewater rafting is kind of our family activity. And the orientation week program. So, perhaps there are some ’yellow shirts’ in the audience too. So, I did it for all my years of university was a ‘yellow shirt’, a squad leader and organising team member, and finally coordinator. And that was probably one of the most fulfilling things that I got to do at university. And then finally, finished in 2014 with my stack of PhD books.
So, from there, I moved to Bologna in Italy. And my projects are part of what's called the Graphene Flagship. So, the Graphene Flagship is a big European project. It's the biggest project actually that there has ever been funding of 1 billion euros for ten years. So, I had some really cool opportunities while I was there. I was working on this crazy material called graphene, which is 2D material, but I was making 3D versions of it. Anyway, it was useful for energy storage applications.
And one of my opportunities during this time was to do some research in microgravity. So, I was using this material called graphene for thermal management in satellites.
And so, these devices have to actually be up in space. So, they have to be able to work when there's no gravity. And so, you have to test that they do work when there's no gravity. So, we did this on what's called a parabolic flight. And you can see in the video there, the manoeuvre that the airplane does to produce weightlessness. And so, you get, you have 20 seconds of double gravity, and then you have sort of 22 seconds of zero gravity. You can see the penguin. We're now in zero gravity. And over, at the top of that parabola, you have zero gravity, and then you go down again and you're in double gravity again. And the plane does this 31 times. It's also known as the Vomit Comet.
So, I've done a couple of these flights. And the first time I was absolutely fine, I had a lot of fun. The second time, it's called Vomit Comet for a reason. And I was actually worried about that because that was about when I was applying to become an astronaut, I thought, OK, this is gonna be a big problem. But I spoke to the doctor on board and he said, "No, no, no, it's a completely different mechanism. Don't worry about it." So, I didn't.
So, why did I then decide to go and do something completely different? So, my background is in engineering, chemistry, material science, but I'm talking about Antarctica, right? Why did I then go and do natural sciences in Antarctica? Well, I think, firstly, it's because of a kind of natural curiosity. So, I remember going to the International Antarctic Centre when I was quite young, probably 10 or 12 years old. And I've always been fascinated by it since then. Probably when I was there, I thought, oh, you know, maybe one day if I earn a lot of money I'll get to go to Antarctica on a cruise. I never actually thought that I would get to go there and work there. But I always had this sense of curiosity about it.
I like a challenge. That's probably one of the biggest aspects of my personality. I like to challenge myself. I guess that's why I would do a PhD and do research because it really is challenging yourself every day. And adventure. As I mentioned before, I do love a bit of adventure, adventure sports, kind of any adventure activities. So, for those reasons, I decided to go to probably one of the most challenging places in the world. This continent of absolute records. It's the most isolated, the coldest, the most arid. Yes, Antarctica is a desert. It has the highest average height above sea level. I think not everybody realises that actually Antarctica has mountains and volcanoes. And most of it is this giant plateau with an average height of about 2,000m. It has the highest wind speeds, especially on the coast. And it's the largest freshwater reserve on the planet. So, despite being a desert, it also holds about 70% of the world's water. And you can see up in the corner there, this is the logo that my team for that the winter over in 2019 made up.
But first of all, we had to go through training, and we had training with all the Italians that were going to Antarctica that year for the first time. And that includes a base on the coast, Mario Zucchelli Station. I was going to Concordia Station, which I'll show you in a minute. It's right inland. So, I had nothing to do with water, but we still got to put on these dry suits, which are actually not so dry, but learn to jump fall out of boats and be rescued. Mainly, we had a lot of firefighting training because, and because Concordia Station is on 3km of ice. That means that you can't ground anything. So, a lot of static electricity builds up and that can easily spark a fire. So, one of the biggest risks there is fire. So, we did a lot of firefighting training.
We got used to some kind of extreme conditions by camping for a week on the glacier of Mont Blanc. We only got to -10 degrees there so it wasn't really showing what we were going to experience, but it was also a good team building experience. This final photo is the last week of training we did just with the little, the winter over crew, getting to know each other and making sure we would get along for the nine months isolated with just 12 other people.
So, how do you get there? Well, you take start from New Zealand or Australia. The second time I went to Antarctica, I left from Hobart. The first time I left on this C-130 military aeroplane, which is not that comfortable, I have to admit. It takes about six hours to get to Mario Zucchelli Station. And then we take this smaller flight, this DC-3 Basler from Mario Zucchelli Station to Concordia. And you can see the Concordia where it is there. It's sort of in the middle of this eastern Antarctic plateau. Sort of in the middle of nowhere. It's 1,200km from the coast. The nearest base to it is Vostok, which is about 600km away. So, it's very, very far from everything. But that's why you can do some really interesting science there.
And the first piece of interesting science that happened at Concordia Station was before the station existed. It's for this project called EPICA, European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica. And what did they do? They drilled this ice core, which was over 3km long. They cut it up into little pieces. And you can see all those little air bubbles in each of the pieces. You can analyse the air inside those air bubbles, correlate the slice that you've taken with the depth of that slice with the time in history. And you can get a profile of the atmospheric conditions back 800,000 years. And this is that famous graphic that probably most of you have seen about the huge amount of carbon dioxide and methane that there has been in the atmosphere in the past 100 years compared to any time in the past 800,000 years.
Now, there's a project called Beyond EPICA, which Australia is involved in as well. Which is aiming to go back 1.5 million years because there were some interesting changes in the natural climate during that time. So, we will see that again, that it's more in this past 100 years than there have been in 1.5 million years.
This is the station. I've listed there, the kind of science that goes on these days. We have astronomy and astrophysics, atmospheric sciences, earth sciences, glaciology, human biology, and remote sensing. So, I was in charge of the atmospheric physics and meteorology observatories. Nothing to do with material science. I had a very steep learning curve, but that's what I loved about it. You can see the base there. It's made up of two towers. The one on the left is the ‘quiet tower’, which has, where we sleep, and it has the hospital and our offices. The one on the right is the ‘loud tower’. And that's where we have the kitchen and the dining area. We have a small gym. And that's where all the mechanics workshops are as well. And just off, off to the side there is, it's called the ‘loud tower’ because that's where the diesel generators are. All around, you can see shipping containers in front. And they contain all our supplies for the year, because at Concordia you are completely isolated for nine months of the year.
And then behind are all the laboratories, and they're sort of 500m to a kilometre away. And during the winter, you can't actually go anywhere with any kind of form of transport. You've only got your feet. So, as I mentioned before, fire is a big risk. So, you have to have a way of escaping from the base. And this is an exercise with the escape sock. Unfortunately, these escape socks only work during the summer. So, if something happens in winter, you kind of have to work it out for yourself.
This is a graphic, you probably can't see it very well, but these are the average temperatures at Concordia. So, during the summer, the average temperature is sort of -30, -40 degrees. There's a video there of a summer, well, an autumn day actually. But you have 100 days where the sun doesn't set and you have 100 days where the sun doesn't come up. And I just highlighted one particular day here where we got to a windchill of -104 degrees Celsius. And yes, I worked outside, I worked outside every single day. So, I can't say that I've felt that on my skin, but I have felt that temperature. Whereas if I had felt it on my skin, I'd probably be covered in burns and frostbite right now.
But another thing to note from this is that the humidity is extremely low, so that that relative humidity is 24%, but that's equivalent to an actual humidity of about seven. So, you get a lot of nosebleeds and just very dry lips and that kind of thing. And another thing to note is the pressure, the atmospheric pressure. So, we used to an atmospheric pressure of about 1,000 hectopascals at sea level. At Concordia, it's around 600. So, this was a particularly good day. It was 640 hectopascals. So, we felt pretty good, but it got down to about 600, 610. And that means that there's a lot less oxygen. So, even walking up a set of stairs was tiring, and you really have to get used to that altitude.
Just a bit of a rundown of some of my projects. So, one of them was the baseline surface radiation network, which is some radiometers that are measuring the radiation that arrives from the sun and that's reflected back. And this is to guide, kind of give us a baseline for the rest of the world, tells us about energy balances of the planet. It gives us regional climatic models, and they go into databases for all the world's climate modelling. But I mean, what I was doing there was basically I was a technician, so I was, I was walking around with my paintbrush and my hairdryer and try to remove any snow and ice that had built up on the instruments. I suppose it was a little bit more complicated than that, but that was the most important job. So, one of these instruments was on this 45m high tower. And we had to go up and clean these instruments once per week. This is in the middle of the day in winter. And so, you climb all the way up this tower and you clean the instruments. Once again, this is under hypoxic conditions, so you're pretty tired. And this is 1km away from the base. So, it was definitely the hardest part of the day. But it was also the hardest part of the week, I should say. But it was also what I most looked forward to. Because having that sort of 20 minute walk to get to this, it's called the American Tower, was the best time to look at the stars. We would take off our headlamps and we would walk in the dark so we could let our eyes adjust. And just the amount of stars, the shooting stars, it really felt like you were inside it. And just to give you an idea, if it was a moonless day, you could actually see your shadow in the light of the Milky Way. It was a really incredible experience. And I think that's a lot of the reason why I later decided to apply to become an astronaut.
Another one of my projects was the routine meteorological observations. And it's basically what it says, weather predictions. Again, climbing some towers, cleaning up the instruments, fixing things when they broke, or trying to deal with things when they broke because you couldn't get any spare parts in and launching the weather balloon. So, this was a task that was every day at a particular time, because this weather balloon is – well not this particular weather balloon – but weather balloons are launched all around the world at the same hour of the day. So, you can get an idea of what's happening in the atmosphere everywhere in the world. And you can do weather predictions. And that again, goes into global climate modelling. Sometimes wrote messages on the balloon. This is an example of International Women's Day where I wrote Women in Science the sky is no limit. Another day, I... This was on my husband's birthday, so I wrote a message to him on the balloon. Usually at Concordia, it's not very windy because it's right, it's quite in the centre, it's very high up. So, actually, the air collects there and it goes towards the coast. And as it goes towards the coast, it speeds up. So, by the time it gets to the coast, it's extremely high wind speed. But occasionally, we get a day like this. And you can see that the balloon is nearly carrying me away with it but it went and I stayed on the ground, so it's all good.
Another one of my projects was the stratospheric LIDAR. This is a very powerful laser that points towards specific clouds that only form during the Antarctic winter. I mean, it makes a beautiful sight, but it's also there for studying the ozone layer. Another one of my projects was the atmospheric aerosol, and these are basically big pumps that suck in air and analyse the particles that are in that air. So that gives us information about what kind of pollution is in the air. And you would hope that in a place as isolated as Antarctica or as isolated as Concordia Station in Antarctica because there aren't many places more isolated than that, you would hope that there's not much pollution arriving. But the interesting polar vortex, the atmospheric flows do mean that you pick up some particles, you can notice when there's a volcanic eruption somewhere in the world, for example. But mainly it gives us a baseline for the rest of the world.
And another one. This I was only in charge of when I went back again for the second time, I went for a summer season during the pandemic, and this is called SuperDARN. And it's a bit of a different kind of experiment, it's about space weather, solar storms, that kind of thing. And this is actually quite interesting connection with space because it's these kind of measurements that tell satellites and the International Space Station when they have to move because there might be some damage coming in from the sun. And as a material scientist, I sort of looked at it with my material science eye because I, you know, that's my background. So I thought, what are some potential contributions from material science, from my background? And I thought about renewable energies because unfortunately most of the energy there is from diesel generators although they have started to put in some solar panels. Another one is you can see in that photo how frosted up my ski goggles were. Anytime you go outside, it gets misty and then immediately freezes up. So, you either have to decide to not be able to see, or to get burnt. So, some kind of nanomaterial coating, active or passive heating, for example, would be a great way to go.
And a similar deal with the instruments. I mean, like I said, one of the main reasons that we have people there is to remove any of the ice, snow and ice buildup. So, if you can have some kind of passive coatings to make sure that you're not actually icing up equipment. So there is actually a big potential contribution from material science as well.
Some of the other activities we did, outreach activities. I mean, there you're in a really privileged position to be able to talk about climate change, for example, the research that you're doing. And so we had about 70 or 80 video conferences with schools while we were there. In our free time, and there was free time, we'd have a walk out to the camels. Somebody, when they built Concordia station, decided that there had to be camels. So, on a Sunday afternoon, you can go for a walk out to the camels. We had parties, which was a good way of keeping up the morale. I think this was an 80s-themed party. We cooked together. It's a French-Italian base so you can imagine that cooking is a big deal. I learned to play Italian billiards, which is quite different to our pool, but it's a lot of fun. Played a bit of poker. And there's actually a sauna at the station as well. But you have to go outside to get to the sauna. And one of the times I went there, I experienced a temperature difference of 180 degrees because it was -90 degrees outside and plus 90 degrees in the sauna so that was interesting.
And then we come to White Mars. So, Concordia station is also called White Mars because it's one of the most similar conditions we have on Earth to what a mission to Mars would be. That's because of the isolation, because of the high altitude, so the low oxygen levels, and the fact that you're with a small group, international group of people for a long time. So they took all sorts of samples from us. So the European Space Agency sends a doctor, a research doctor down to do tests on all the participants of the winter over. And one interesting one was one called SIMSkill where we learnt, using a simulator, to dock the Soyuz, this Russian module, on the International Space Station. So they taught us how to do this during the summer period, gave us all sorts of increasingly difficult exams, and then they tested us again every week or every month or every few months just to see how our cognition went during that time because if you can imagine if you're going to Mars, on Earth you've learnt how to land on Mars, but then you spend nine months getting there and you're having no practice at doing that. So this is kind of working out how the mind works during that time, what kind of training program it would be necessary to implement.
So, that led me to apply to become an astronaut because I'd learnt a lot about about ESA while I was there. I had learnt a lot about myself. As I said, it was a really steep learning curve and there were a lot of things I just didn't think that I would be able to learn about. I mean, I hadn't had a lot of experience with electronics or programming. I did an engineering degree, but it was in industrial chemistry, so I didn't do a lot of that sort of thing and I thought, oh, no, that's not, I mean, that's not me. I don't know. But then I got there and I learnt it really quickly and I loved it. I also loved running other people's experiments that they had put their life's work into, but they weren't able to go there and do it themselves. And this is a lot like what the astronauts do on the International Space Station. So, I decided to apply.
This was the selection process. So, as Aude said earlier, there were 22,500 people that applied and they had to whittle that down to about sort of 13-1,400 people. At that point, It says Psychological Test Series. This was the original media kit, but actually, they tricked us, these were psychometric tests at this point. So they tested us on physics and math, English, that one was OK, and logic and memory. That was a particularly difficult memory one where they read out a whole lot of numbers and you didn't know how many numbers there were going to be. They just kept reading out numbers and you had to memorise them and type them out backwards. And if you got the third number wrong but you got all the rest of them right, then you only got two points because you got two of them right. So that was a particularly tough one. Then after that, they took about 400 people through to the psychological round, which were interviews with psychologists. We did group work to see how we would act in a team, our potential for leadership and followership.
From there, they took about 100 people through to a medical selection, which was a whole week of medical tests. If you want to know what they are, well, you can ask me afterwards but they were pretty much everything that you can imagine. And then there were a couple of interview rounds. The first one was a panel interview, and this was, for me, probably the toughest part of the whole process because they asked questions about hypothetical situations on the International Space Station, but they also asked questions that we might get from journalists or questions that we might get from children. Really tough ones too. And any time that they saw that we were sitting in our comfort zone, you know, this was something that we had studied and we can answer that, no, no, they didn't want to hear about that. They took you out of your comfort zone and took you on a different track. Then we had the final interview, which was with the director general of the European Space Agency, and that was actually quite nice. It was just a chat. He just wanted to get to know us so that he could make the final decision. And so in November of last year, the astronaut class was announced. There were 17 of us and there are five what's called Career Astronauts because there are five flights available at the moment and the rest of us are members of the reserve. So we're just waiting for our potential mission, which is quite possible because there is, you know, a big increase in the number of space missions and growth in the space sector commercialisation. And one other thing to note is that we also have the world's first para-astronaut or astronaut with a disability who's doing a feasibility study to see what needs to be different to take people with disabilities to space.
What are the missions? Well, there's the International Space Station, which will be decommissioned after 2030. At that point, there'll be commercial space stations in orbit. There are the Artemis missions, going back to the moon and this time staying there. And there are Mars missions which, for the moment, are robotic but in the 2040s, the aim is to send humans to Mars.
So, I guess my message is that you should take these weird opportunities that come up because you don't know where they'll take you. I mean, I didn't think that I was going to get to work in Antarctica, but I did and this led me to then apply to and succeeding in the astronaut selection process. So dream big.
Aude Vignelles: That was such an inspiring talk. Thank you very, very, very much. Your appetite for learning, your curiosity, seizing opportunity is very inspiring. I hope everybody is as inspired as I am. I have a few questions here, but I would like definitely to have questions from the audience. So there is a Slido details up there. We will bring a microphone as well in here and there. If you prefer asking your question yourself, please do. I encourage the young audience to ask questions and ask anything. This is your opportunity. And again, it's not every day that we can ask a question to someone like you. How long did you stay in Antarctica the first time?
Meganne Christian: The first time I was there for one year. So, I arrived at the beginning of a summer season, had the summer season to learn everything I needed to learn. Then I was there for the winter and left early in the next summer.
Aude Vignelles: OK. My first question was about how did you feel during the selection process. But after seeing you climbing this tower in the night cleaning things, I'm like you're ready for everything. But I wanted to know it's a long process that lasted for...?
Meganne Christian: 18 months.
Aude Vignelles: Yeah, so more than a year and waiting for the next steps and whether you make it or not. At any stage an exam you did, a test you did or an answer you got that makes you doubt that that was not something you wanted to do because you didn't feel ready or you were not comfortable or any time any stage in the process made you doubt like this is not for me.
Meganne Christian: There were many times when I doubted myself, but I never doubted that it was something that I wanted to do. So, I never became demotivated from actually applying. But the selection process was really, really long and there was a lot of waiting. And, as it turned out, I was sort of always the last one through. So my group was the very last group to do the second stage of the selection process, which meant that we were always the last ones and that made me really worried. I thought, well, does this mean that I'm not good enough? I mean, I later found out that it had nothing to do with it, it was kind of a random distribution, but that was stressful waiting all that time.
Aude Vignelles: And you didn't feel that, I mean, in the past, astronauts or cosmonauts were from a military background, you never felt that you didn't have the right profile to do that? Do you think things are changing now and the opportunity is easier?
Meganne Christian: I wondered. And, I mean, if you wanted to be an Apollo astronaut back in the day, you absolutely had to be a military pilot. There was no other way until a bit later when they started to recruit scientists. But it really has changed I think, I haven't done the numbers exactly, but I think probably about a third of our class are pilots and the rest of us are from science, engineering, medicine sort of backgrounds. So, I knew that there was this kind of change because these days the shuttles fly themselves. So, yeah, pilots are always going to be required, but they also really, really need scientists, people who can run experiments, who can adapt when things go wrong, fix things when they go wrong, problem solve.
Aude Vignelles: Excellent. And I want to know a bit more about your current role. So, you are the UK Space Agency lead for the commercialisation of space exploration. Can you tell us a bit more about that and can you explain as well, where do you think government has to fund science exploration, space exploration and when private industry do that, can you explain us a bit the nuance there?
Meganne Christian: Yeah, it's a really interesting question. So, my role at the UK Space Agency is partly doing outreach activities trying to inspire the next generation, but mostly it's this exploration commercialisation. And my first big question is, what's going to happen? How do we continue to do science and research in low-Earth orbit when the International Space Station is decommissioned in the 2030s? So, what is that future going to look like? What is the role of governmental astronauts versus astronauts from companies? And just trying to understand what that's going to look like, how we should frame things so that businesses get a good chance. And I guess in terms of the question about government versus private, I think government is absolutely always going to have a role in space exploration, especially as you go further out. If we're talking about Moon and Mars, I think the government is absolutely always going to have a huge, huge role in that. Also, I mean, in low-Earth orbit, I think in the future there are going to be fully commercial opportunities.
So, there's going to be factories that are orbiting the Earth that are manufacturing materials, manufacturing fibre optics, manufacturing pharmaceuticals. And I think that is something that can be commercialised but I think most of what we're going to see are public-private partnerships. So I think the government is always going to have an extremely strong and the strongest role in space exploration.
Aude Vignelles: Thank you. I need to ask because it's National Science Week, so I need to ask, what is science for you and especially space science? How would you define that?
Meganne Christian: Yeah, I think space science, like any kind of science, is getting increasingly interdisciplinary. So, I think there's kind of this tradition of space science being astronomy, looking out to discover what's out there in the universe and to understand the universe. But I think these days there are a whole lot of other things that come into it. I mean, when you think of Mars exploration, there's all the geology of that side of things. But then coming back to low-Earth orbit, there's also technological developments. There's drug discovery, there's pharmaceuticals, there's the study of the human body. I mean, you can really think of any science and apply it to space in some way. So, I think the definition of space science has broadened hugely over the past ten, 20 years. Well, since we've had the ISS, so 20 years.
Aude Vignelles: Thanks. And there is one question here that I like. What would be your dream space mission and why? Very good question.
Meganne Christian: Well, that's a tough one. I think I would absolutely love to go to the International Space Station because I have learned so much about it over these past few years and so much about the interesting science that happens there. And I think like many people beforehand, I didn't know how fundamental what happens in space is to what happens on Earth and these benefits that we bring back to Earth. So, I would be fascinated to see what happens on the ISS. But who doesn't dream of the moon?
Aude Vignelles: So, ISS and the moon?
Meganne Christian: Yeah. I mean, one day Mars, why not.
Aude Vignelles: But going to the moon first works as well, right? You need to go to the ISS.
Meganne Christian: I would love to go to the moon. I mean, I like how some people describe it as a museum because really it contains the history of our universe.
Aude Vignelles: Very true. So, a question about being an astronaut. So first of all, when did you realise you wanted to be an astronaut? I think you mentioned that a bit in your presentation. But also, why do we need astronauts? It costs a lot of money to train astronauts and send them. So, is there anything that robots cannot do?
Meganne Christian: Yeah. So, in terms of when I decided to become an astronaut, I always thought it was sort of the coolest job in the world. And I loved going to space museums. I had the opportunity to go to the Kennedy Space Center and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and of course, the Powerhouse Museum here in Sydney when I was young, and a bit like the Antarctic Center, I was always fascinated by it. But when I was a kid, there was no Australian Space Agency. It's only been there for five years. So, I didn't necessarily think that that could be a career for me. So it really only crystallised for me when I was in Antarctica and when I learned a lot more about the European Space Agency, learned a lot more about myself. And so that's really when I decided yes. And that's when I first heard the rumours of there being a selection process for the first time since 2008. So, the last selection process was in 2008, and then it took 13 years for the next one to come up.
Now, the question about do we need astronauts. Well, I mean, it's a really important question to ask. Because like you say, it costs a lot of money to train and send astronauts to space. And robots can do a lot. I mean, there's a huge amount of science that's going on on the moon and on Mars with robots. But I think there's a certain amount of creativity and adaptation that a human has. That means that we can do a kind of a different sort of research, and we can do it a lot more quickly. We can troubleshoot when things go wrong. So, for example, when a rock got caught in one of the Mars rover's sampling equipment last year, it took a month to get rid of the rock. And so during that time, it couldn't do anything else. But I think the main thing is just that extra creativity and adaptability of a human because these robots do have a lot of sensors. They can pick up a lot of things, but they can only do what they were designed to do. And often they were designed to do something years before in their development. And so I think the adaptability of the human is very, very important.
And I think the future is a synergy between humans and robots in space exploration.
Aude Vignelles: So, we need both.
Meganne Christian: We need both.
Aude Vignelles: There's a lot of questions here. And please, if you want to prepare to ask a question yourself, welcome to find the microphone and ask them. There's a lot of question about what do you need to study to become an astronaut. And is that the only path to study engineering to be an astronaut?
Meganne Christian: That's a good question. So, for the selection process that I did, the minimum requirement was that you have a master's degree in science, engineering, medicine or a test pilot license. I think this is gonna change in the future. And I think the Japanese space agency, for example, is already accepting applications from people also with an arts degree, because like I said, it's becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. But for now, that was the requirement.
Aude Vignelles: Another interesting one, when you go through all these selection tests and process, surely you get anxious and your stress level are getting up. Do you have any trick, any advice for people to manage this stress and this anxiety? Or maybe you didn't go through any anxiety or any stress?
Meganne Christian: No, I definitely did. It was definitely very I mean, very anxious, just this whole waiting. I don't know if I have any kind of trick that makes it go away, but I would just kind of focus on the next step. I had a little study group, actually. So, there were a few of us who were applying to become astronauts from different places around Europe. We met on a social media platform and we got together and played games that we thought might help us through the selection process. And they're still my friends today. We called the group the Space Rangers. Unfortunately, none of them got through, but we're still friends. And they were a huge support for me during the whole process.
Aude Vignelles: Thank you. I can see some people here. So, let's take the first question to the microphone number one.
Audience Question 1: So, how high did that laser go? Like...
Meganne Christian: Yeah, so that goes up into the stratosphere, which is about, it goes up about 60km, that laser. So very, very high.
Audience Question 1: Wow.
Meganne Christian: And then it bounces back. So, the light bounces back off the particles that are in the clouds and you collect that and then you can analyse it and see what the profile is, what's happening up in the stratosphere.
Audience Question 1: Oh, got it. Thank you. Thank you!
Meganne Christian: You're welcome.
Aude Vignelles: Yeah, we can go to the next one. There's a lovely queue there, so looking forward to hearing all the questions there. Off you go.
Audience Question 2: Do you have any advice for a kid who wants to become an astronaut when they grow up?
Meganne Christian: My advice is to find what you love to do because. You first have to be at a good position in whatever you're doing with your life. You have to have a, you know, be at the top of your career before you can actually become an astronaut. And the best thing, the best way to do that is to do something that you love. If you wanna have that in space, that's fantastic. But it doesn't necessarily have to be. So, do something you love. Look out for interesting opportunities like this crazy opportunity I had to go to Antarctica and just grab them when they come.
Audience Question 2: Okay, thanks.
Aude Vignelles: I have to say, I really agree with you. I'm sorry. Just a quick thing. I get that question a lot as well. And I think the hardest thing is to find what makes you tick. Once you know that, the rest is just fight for it and go for it and never take no for an answer. And that's the hardest thing. What is making you tick and passionate?
Meganne Christian: Yeah. And then of course, if you're doing something you love already, then becoming an astronaut is a bonus.
Aude Vignelles: Shall we go to the next question of the audience?
Audience Question 3: What is the hardest challenge you will face as an astronaut and what is the biggest responsibility as an astronaut?
Meganne Christian: Well, that's a tough one.
Aude Vignelles: That was the next one. Yeah. Very good question.
Meganne Christian: Yeah, one of the tough things is being adaptable. So, I think missions happen, but things change and you might have to wait for a very long time. I might have to wait for a very long time for my chance to go to space. And so it's a bit like, wait, I thought the selection process was over, but it's not because I'm still waiting for my chance to go to space. So, that's difficult for me now. But I think one of the most challenging things that astronauts do is extravehicular activities, spacewalks. So, that's really very physically and mentally challenging and that's something that I would absolutely love to do. And the second part of your question?
Audience Question 4: What is the biggest responsibility as an astronaut?
Meganne Christian: There are many responsibilities, but I think taking care of your crew mates is a really big one. Making sure that everybody is on the same page, everybody is going well, there are no problems between the team.
Audience Question 4: Thank you.
Aude Vignelles: I have a quick one here. Lots of questions about the environmental impact of space travel and spaceports and rockets. What's your take on this?
Meganne Christian: That's an important question and it's definitely something that space agencies all around the world are trying to address. I think, for example, one possible way of propelling a rocket is with hydrogen or oxygen. And if you produce that hydrogen in a sustainable way, then you're already improving a lot. The emissions that you're having from a launch. That of course, doesn't account for all the upstream processes for building the rockets, et cetera. And it's definitely something that we have to continue to improve and address.
Aude Vignelles: Thank you for that. And if I can make a remark there. At the space agency we are looking into space sustainability very seriously. So, looking at the life cycle of any mission from design to disposal and making sure that we do that in a sustainable manner. An example when we're looking at all the missions that are going to be on the moon when we land a lander and then you think, well, it's gonna be a piece of rubbish, now it's landing. We're trying to see how this lander can be part of Wi-Fi architecture or something. So, we are starting looking into all this. But you're absolutely right. It's an end-to-end process. Let's go to the next question in the audience, if there is any. I can see a queue there.
Meganne Christian: We have some over here as well.
Aude Vignelles: Oh, yeah. Let's go there. Sorry. Let's take one there. I always forget to turn my head. Let's go there.
Audience Question 5: Are you afraid to go to space, and when are you going to space?
Meganne Christian: As for when? I don't know. There are no guarantees 'cause I'm a member of the reserve. But things are looking pretty good. It might be in the next couple of years. As for being afraid, no, I don't feel afraid. I just feel excited. I think one of the things is that you have to accept that there's a level of risk, of course, but there has been so much work and development gone into the development of this equipment, basically, and so much training that you do beforehand that you're completely ready for that kind of event. And any astronauts that have been to space that I've spoken to said that they don't really have time to be afraid because they're just focused on their task.
Aude Vignelles: So, you were never afraid when you spent 18 months in Antarctica?
Meganne Christian: No, I was not afraid. I had a few moments. There was one time when I was out with a colleague heading to one of the labs and a whiteout came up. So, I mean, it was already dark, but you could always see that 'cause of the lights from the base and you could see the pickets which were leading you to the laboratories. But at one point the whiteout came up, so we couldn't see anything and we kind of lost our way, couldn't see the pickets that would take us to the lab. So, that could have been a scary experience, but I think we were prepared for it. I mean, and we knew that there were there were safety measures in place. So whenever we went out, we had a radio with us. And inside the radio, there's a GPS monitor. So, somebody in the base was tracking where we were. Eventually, we managed to find our footprints again and follow our way back. But I think it's just being focused on the task meant that I wasn't afraid.
Aude Vignelles: Focused on the task. Can we take another question from that queue?
Audience Question 6: So, what is the largest challenges of being an astronaut?
Meganne Christian: I think there are a lot of challenges. I mean, some of them I mentioned before, like just the waiting for a mission and then having to change things when things go wrong or the spacewalks. But I think that adaptability again. So, if something goes wrong when you're up on the International Space Station, it's a bit like if something goes wrong at Concordia Station, your small team has to be able to deal with that and overcome these problems with a lot of help from the ground control, of course. But it's really, really up to you. So, that's again that's a big responsibility too.
Audience Question 7: What's your favourite part of the moon?
Meganne Christian: Oh, my favourite part of the moon. Wow, that's a big question. And I know where that's come from, too. It would be amazing to discover more about the South Pole of the moon.
Aude Vignelles: Why?
Meganne Christian: Well, I mean, that's predicted where there is water. And I've had a good experience on the South Pole of the Earth, so why not learn about the South Pole of the moon?
Audience Question 8: Which is your favourite planet?
Meganne Christian: My favourite planet. So, I mean, Mars is absolutely fascinating, but my favourite planet has to be Earth because, I mean, this is where I live, right? And it's just a special place. And I'm looking forward to if I have the opportunity to see Earth from space and get that overview effect that people talk about, just that feeling of seeing how boundaries don't really exist and how we need to protect our planet.
Aude Vignelles: That's a very good answer. We're gonna go here and then there, go over to you.
Audience Question 9: I'm wanting to study astrophysics at university and I was wondering, when you were at university, how did you manage studying such difficult science whilst doing a job? 'Cause I kind of wanna do a job in that area already, but I won't be able to till I have the degree. So, I'm wondering what you would recommend. Like how could I work in an area that's still of that interest?
Meganne Christian: Yeah. Interesting question. So, when I was studying, I just had a casual job, but I did also do a lot of extracurricular activities, so reviews and volunteering and things like that. And I think that was what I did to make myself a more well-rounded person. But I think what you can do is look out for university clubs that align with your interest because then you can really, you know, get along with like-minded people, learn a lot while having fun at the same time.
Aude Vignelles: Thank you. I'm gonna go there. When I see the amount of people and the amount of Slido we need another two hours. Over to you.
Audience Question 10: Can space junk like affect the missions, like the Artemis missions or the Mars missions?
Meganne Christian: Yeah, space junk is a really important issue. So, one thing that people don't realise is that our orbits are actually a finite resource. So, if we keep putting things up there, there's more potential for them to crash into each other and cause even more space junk. And that can eventually become a problem for us wanting to go further afield, like to the moon. For now, it's OK, but it could very, very easily get out of control. One important thing that is, lots of this junk is being monitored and there are also missions being planned to actually go and collect some of that junk and to get it out of orbit. So, yeah, it's a huge issue. And yeah, very important.
Aude Vignelles: It's a very, very good question because the first subject space agencies are talking about when they meet, is this space junk issue. And as you said, there is, we have the air traffic control with the planes and now we have, we are establishing a space traffic control to make sure that we monitor very closely all this. It's a problem now that we need to address very, very carefully. So, very, very good question. Take another question here and then we'll go that side. You ready?
Audience Question 11: Yes.
Aude Vignelles: Go for it.
Audience Question 11: Are you looking forward to the space elevator?
Meganne Christian: Interesting. So, a space elevator would be amazing. It is theoretically possible, but practically very unlikely. But if there were, if somebody managed to invent a space elevator, then great. I would love to go up on the space elevator. And I think, it would give a lot more people opportunities to go to space.
Aude Vignelles: Yeah, I think, you would be ready for that without any doubt. We go over your side.
Audience Question 12: Would your background in material science possibly help you when handling equipment like 3D printing technology?
Meganne Christian: Yeah, definitely. So, there are really a lot of materials science experiments that go on on the International Space Station, for example. And there's important stuff happening in materials science when you think about the moon as well, the use of resources that are available on the moon, potentially, 3D printing with regolith, so the moon dust.
So, that can definitely help. But the important thing is that astronauts come from a lot of different backgrounds. And so, the point of the training is sort of to get everybody up to the same level across a range of disciplines.
Aude Vignelles: I like your question about 3D printing because at some point you can think we just need to send cartridges up there. There will be 3D printing in orbit and we can manufacture everything up there. So, a very good question. Can we go over there?
Audience Question 13: What does it feel like to float in space and what's the advice about it?
Meganne Christian: So, I haven't yet floated in space, but I have had my sort of total of about 20 minutes in zero gravity now. And it's a really difficult sensation to describe. So, it is a bit like when, you know, you go on a roller coaster or you go over a bump in a car, but instead of just being that second of your stomach sort of jolting, it's like that for a long period of time. And advice about it, I think, is just to have fun because it's an amazing experience.
Aude Vignelles: But it's a very good question. You did mention that the first 20 minutes you did, you were fine. And the second one you starting, so this is what I wanted to ask you about the selection process when you realise, "Oh, maybe it's not for me." What happens if you're sick up there and you're sick all the time?
Meganne Christian: That is the one thing that kind of worries me about it, because I, when I was little, I did get a bit of motion sickness. But then there was a very long time when I didn't, you know, I didn't have any problems on ships or anything. But then I had this experience of the second parabolic flight I did, and I was just so sick and and I just wanted it to end. And so, that is something that worries me a little bit and it's something that, yeah, I'd have to definitely consider. But there are some pretty good anti-nausea medications, so...
Aude Vignelles: Good to know. Can we go over there? There is some nice question here as well. I may ask one here, you go.
Audience Question 14: Did you like it in Antarctica?
Meganne Christian: I loved it. It was a life-changing experience and one of the best things I've ever done. Physically challenging because of the temperatures. Also, mentally challenging because, you know, you're with this same group. There were 13 of us for a long time. And just the darkness and the cold weather and everything meant that you were a little bit more irritable, right? So it did make it a bit harder to get along with people. But fortunately, we did get along pretty well.
Aude Vignelles: Let's go there again.
Audience Question 15: When you first arrived at Antarctica and when you first arrived back, wherever you came back to from Antarctica, how well did you adapt at first, and how long did it take you to adapt?
Meganne Christian: Excellent question, because it really does take a lot of adaptation. I think, adapting there, the main thing is adapting physically to the environment, so adapting to that low oxygen level. Arriving back from Antarctica, it was difficult to adapt back into normal life. So, I had just had this profound experience, but everybody else had just, you know, they'd been going on with their ordinary lives.
And so, it was difficult for me to think about things that were kind of seemed petty, like the traffic or what was on TV. It was really hard for me to re-adapt into a normal sort of life. So, yeah, excellent question. It did take me a while. It took, it probably took me about a month before I was kind of back on track.
Aude Vignelles: We have a minute left, but we're going to try to go through all the questions over to you.
Audience Question 16: This is like sort of, I don't know how to properly articulate it, but if you had all the resources, infinite time, infinite money, infinite resources, what kind of experiment would you run on the ISS or in spaceflight?
Meganne Christian: Wow. Oh, I am not prepared for this. Just, you know, when you get presented with everything you could ever want, what would you do? Ah, no, I don't know. I'm going to have to think about that one and get back to you afterwards.
Aude Vignelles: Let's go this way.
Audience Question 17: Hi. I have a question about maybe some of the games or the things you did to prepare yourself, maybe mentally for the, as like becoming an astronaut.
I know it has a lot to do with memory and probably your ability to kind of like think fast. But you said you played games and maybe personally and you're like everyday life, were the things that you did to train yourself extra to prepare for that.
Meganne Christian: Yeah. So, sort of brain training exercises. Also, the test that pilots do to get into a commercial airline, for example. And there are some websites that you can go and practice with that kind of thing.
Audience Question 17: Could I ask for the website?
Meganne Christian: Pilot test.
Aude Vignelles: Here we go. Over a couple here. You go.
Audience Question 18: How long is a moonwalk?
Meganne Christian: Oh, it can be any length of time. So, I think, that depends a lot on your supply of oxygen and your battery supply and that kind of thing. Do you know how long the, during the Apollo era they tended to go on a moonwalk for?
Aude Vignelles: I think, it was 20 minutes max, something like that. I may be wrong, though.
Meganne Christian: I think, it will probably increase in the future, but it really depends on the sort of technological capabilities of your spacesuit.
Aude Vignelles: Over to you.
Audience Question 19: Would you say that balancing your like everyday life with your professional life was hard or easy? Like what would you think about that?
Meganne Christian: Time management was definitely important, extremely important, especially during university, because I was really, I was doing a lot of stuff. And you know, any engineers in the room know that you have a lot of contact hours, but it didn't feel, like that, for me, like it didn't, I thrive on being busy. So, the more I fill up my day, the happier I am. So, as long as those are things that I enjoy doing or I have a good motivation for doing, then I'm quite happy to arrange my time around that.
Aude Vignelles: Okay. Kind of person you're stressed without pressure, right? Yeah. Was there a follow up? No. Okay. Let's go this side.
Audience Question 20: Before you went to space, how long did it take for you to train?
Meganne Christian: So, I haven't been to space yet. And the amount of time the training takes depends on the mission. But usually, basic training is around about a year. And then there's specialised training from then on, which takes longer. So, you learn about the particular experiments that you might need to run, the particular equipment you need to work with, and that can take another two or three years.
Aude Vignelles: Let's go to the last one there.
Audience Question 21: What was the Vomit Comet like?
Meganne Christian: As it sounds. No, it was amazing. It was a lot of fun. So, I mean, I was there to do research. So, most of the time I was sitting with my experiment pressing buttons. But there were three of us pressing buttons on our particular experiment. So, that meant that on each parabola, we could, somebody could go out and have some fun. And one particularly fun part on the first flight I did was that I went to the free floating zone and the guy who was running the parabolic flight said, "Close your eyes." And he spun me around. And then he stopped me. He put me down somewhere. And he said, "Where do you think you are?" I'm like, "Well, I feel like I'm sitting on the ground, I'm on the ground, right?" He said, "Open your eyes." And he had sat me on the ceiling. So, you completely lose any sort of sense of direction.
Aude Vignelles: I think, we can go quickly through the five questions there and then we will wrap it up. So, over to you.
Audience Question 22: Is space infinite? And if it is, what planet would you go to and what would you name it?
Meganne Christian: Oh, wow. So, there is a measurable amount of space (LAUGH) in the measurable universe, but we don't know exactly whether space itself is infinite. And I think, better to ask an astrophysicist that one, because it's not my forte. Oh, what would I name a planet? Is this just going for, I mean, Matilda?
Aude Vignelles: Over to you.
Audience Question 23: Yeah. Hi. Do you think human race can colonise Mars, Moon, and the other planets? And more importantly, why should we do it?
Meganne Christian: I think, the human race will be able to do it. I think, right now we don't necessarily have all the technologies required to do it. Should we do it? I think, that if we do it sustainably, why not? Yeah, there was a few questions about specifics there. So, I think, you're touching on that.
Aude Vignelles: Over to you.
Audience Question 24: Why did you want to become an astronaut and what do you love about being an astronaut?
Meganne Christian: Oh, so many reasons. I think, just my need for adventure, my need to challenge myself, my curiosity about the world and the science. And just, I think, it's this curiosity. I want to know what it's like. And it's such a unique position, and I just want to learn everything I can about it. And what do I love about being an astronaut? Well, I love the opportunity to speak to people like yourself, to try and inspire the next generation to study science and to go into the space industry.
Aude Vignelles: Thank you. Next one. And I think, we have two more and then we will have to wrap up. Go ahead.
Audience Question 25: What kind of time do you use in space? Because there are different times in different countries on Earth.
Meganne Christian: Yeah, great question. So, I think, the, it depends who's kind of running it, but I think, the International Space Station runs on universal UTC. So, basically, they just choose a particular time and that's what they use. And everybody, all the different ground control people have to use that time frame.
Aude Vignelles: That's a very good question because on the moon, a lunar day is 12 days here. So, yeah, it's a very good question. Every planet will have to have their own system eventually. It's a very good question.
Do we have any more question there? Yeah, two more. Let's go.
Audience Question 26: If you had to pick a planet, which, and you couldn't go back to Earth, which planet would you pick?
Meganne Christian: Oh, my goodness. Like if I couldn't go back to Earth? I mean, I think, the one that has most, is most likely hospitable, as we've talked about, is probably Mars. So, if we had the opportunity, but I would like to go to Mars, but only if I could come back. So, I would prefer to be able to come back to Earth.
Aude Vignelles: Last question.
Audience Question 27: How many layers did you have to wear in Antarctica?
Meganne Christian: A lot. A lot. I don't know how many. I don't know if I had photos of all the gear, but lots of layers. And that depends on the temperature, of course, like I showed you, we got down to about minus 100°C. Funnily enough, a summer day, that's minus 30 or minus 40 degrees, actually feels quite warm.
So, you can spend most of the day outside just wearing maybe one under layer and then your thick polar suit. If you're going out in the middle of winter, you can't really spend more than about 20 minutes outside because it just gets too cold. I could always tell when it got below minus 60 degrees because my legs would start to get cold. But basically, just lots of layers, lots of thermals and then other technical layers. And then you've got your big polar suit on the outside. And that's it.
Aude Vignelles: I have to ask one more that is quite coming back in their life. Is there life out there? What do you think?
Meganne Christian: I think, the probability is high. The probability of us discovering it or coming in contact with it is a lot lower, I think, but, you know, it's hard to imagine a universe so vast without having some form of life somewhere else.
Aude Vignelles: I agree with you. Unfortunately, we're going to have to wrap up the here. I have to say, there's something you said today which I found very profound when you said that you could see the shadow from the light of the Milky Way.
That is with my mind for the rest of the night, that was really powerful thing. National Space Science Week is still going on. There is apparently lots of things happening on the physics lawn. If you want to look at the stars and see what's happening there. The University of New South Wales Centre of Ideas is running more events. So, look at their newsletter and see what's happening there. But Meganne, thank you very much for your time. I know you're here for a short amount of time. I know you're very busy. Thank you for spending some time with us tonight and taking all these questions. It was very inspiring. I had a lot of fun.
Meganne Christian: Me too. It was my pleasure.
Aude Vignelles: Thanks a lot. So, join me in thanking Meganne for your time today.
UNSW Centre for Ideas: Thanks for listening. This event was presented by UNSW Centre for Ideas and UNSW Science as part of National Science Week. For more information visit centreforideas.com and don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Aude Vignelles and Meganne Christian
With a degree in Engineering and a PhD in Industrial Chemistry, Meganne's insatiable curiosity and drive for innovation have propelled her to remarkable heights. Her extensive research experience as a scientist in Antarctica, coupled with her selection as a reservist astronaut with the European Space Agency, showcase her unwavering dedication to pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and exploration. Meganne's passion for space research extends beyond her personal achievements, as she also serves as Reserve Astronaut & Exploration Commercialisation Lead at the UK Space Agency, where she is instrumental in shaping the future of space-based systems, technologies, and applications. With her visionary mindset and trailblazing spirit, Meganne Christian is a true inspiration for aspiring scientists and space enthusiasts worldwide.
Aude Vignelles is the Chief Technology Officer of the Australian Space Agency, supporting the team with strategic technology advice and program delivery to grow a trusted and respected Australian space capability
Aude is a space and aeronautics system engineer who started her career at the European Space Agency (ESA) in the Netherlands. She became a source of expertise for the test campaign of all scientific programmes run by ESA from their early phase, such as Rosetta. She then moved to London where she started a career in the broadcast industry and successfully integrated the first digital terrestrial broadcast centre in the world. She continued this career in broadcast and media here in Australia with Foxtel and Austar. Prior to her current role, Aude was the Executive Manager, Satellite & Fixed Wireless Operations at nbn.