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I'm training to become Australia's first woman astronaut. Here's what it takes

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I expect to fly my first suborbital mission sometime in 2023 as a payload specialist on a commercial mission.
I'm currently training to become Australia's first woman astronaut. In other words, I'll be one of few certified crew members who can handle specialised scientific equipment aboard a suborbital spacecraft.

Once we're up there, my team and I expect to conduct research on Earth's atmosphere. It's an opportunity I consider out of this world. But it has taken a lot of effort for this dream to be realised.

My path to PoSSUM

As a female STEM and legal professional, my past jobs included working as a research scientist in mining and metals for BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) — but I always loved space.

After combining my science degree with two law degrees, I won a scholarship for the International Space University. I eventually received an Australian Government Endeavour Executive Award for a project at the NASA Kennedy Space Centre. With this I pivoted towards a career in the space industry, and have never looked back.

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I was selected as a PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) Scientist-Astronaut candidate and global ambassador for 2021. PoSSUM is a non-profit US astronautics research and education program run by the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS).

The program uses next-generation suborbital spacecraft to study the upper atmosphere and its potential role in global climate change. Generally speaking, a suborbital spaceflight is any flight that reaches an altitude higher than 80km, but doesn't escape Earth's gravity to make it into orbit.

Anything above 80km is deemed "space" under US legislation, although some nations (including Australia) don't agree with this and the debate about where "space" begins — also called the Kármán line — remains ongoing.

Last month, commercial space tourism companies Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic completed the very first suborbital spaceflights carrying passengers (without research). This was an incredible…
Kim Ellis Hayes
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