This Friday, July 8, saw the launch of the Atlantis space shuttle and the end of NASA's 30-year program. Viewed by about one million on the ground at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and tens of millions around the globe the first program of reusable shuttles in the world ended. Surprisingly, there are some interesting Irish connections to this history space program.
1 . University College Dublin connection
The Atlantis shuttle's mission is to deliver one year's worth of supplies to the International Space Station. These supplies include CETSOL cartridges or Columnar to Equiaxed Transition in SOLidification processing cartridges.
University College Dublin staff members Dr David Browne, from the School of Electrical, Electronic and Mechanical Engineering was involved in the European Space Agency's research project into the cartridges.
The will be used to compare the results of the experiments in space with the experiments on Earth to isolate the effects of gravity on alloy solidification.
Speaking to Science.ie, Dr Browne said "So there will be an Irish and UCD scientific connection with this historic last space shuttle mission by NASA."
2. The Limerick link
Sadly the end of the space program is a sad time for the 9,000 workers involved.
"It really is like a stage of grieving" said Gary Stutte, a scientist who worked at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for nearly 20 years. Last month Stutte attended the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) to take up a research post as EU Marie Curie Fellow. He will work on growing plants in microgravity.
Also Gerard Newsham (24) was lucky enough to attend the Atlantis' launch on Friday. A postgraduate student at LIT he is currently working at the Space Life Lab in Florida on " Symbiotic Nodulation in a Reduced Gravity Environment (SyNRGE)”.
3. The Corkonian correlation
Dan Tani has flown two space shuttle missions and spent 120 days on board the International Space Station. His wife Jane Egan hails from the Cork town of Kinsale.
Tani has visited schools in West Cork speaking about his experiences in Cork. He also spent his 47th birthday in space and celebrated it with his family via a live link up to Cork's Blackrock Castle Observatory.
He returned from his final mission last Friday.
4. The Diaspora relationship
It's estimated that over 35 million American's can trace their roots to Ireland so it's no surprise that many scientists in NASA have Irish ancestry.
Last St. Patrick's Day astronaut Cady Coleman marked the occasion from the International Space Station by playing a solo on a 100-year-old Irish flute. She had borrowed it the Cheftains, Matt Molloy. She played a tune by Paddy Moloney.
Speaking from space she said "St Patrick’s Day is a day when people all over the Earth recognise their Irish heritage. And now we’re doing that from space as well.”
5. The other Irish links
The space shuttle program is currently worth over $28.5 million to the Irish economy. In all about 70 companies have participated in the EU Space Agency program since 2000.
The Space Strategy Working Group believes a coherent national space strategy for Ireland could lead to 5,000 new high-value jobs by 2025. By then the sector would have an estimated value of €1 billion to the exchequer.