German space flight has, up to now, been an exclusively male domain. The project “Die Astronautin” wants to put the first German woman into space using crowdfunding. We talked to Claudia Kessler, initiator of “Die Astronautin” and speaker at #ada17.
Claudia, have you ever experienced weightlessness?
Yes, in 2004 I had the opportunity to go on some parabolic flights. We flew 30 parabolas and I was weightless for around 11 minutes in total. It was an amazing experience. It’s kind of like swimming without water. I’d love to do it again, anytime!
What got you into the field of aerospace? Was there something that sparked your fascination with space early on?
When I was four years old, I watched the moon landing on TV. From that moment on I knew that I wanted to go to the moon, and that’s how it’s been to this day!
What can we “down here” learn from discoveries “up there”?
First of all, we need to realize that we are all tourists travelling through space on Starship Earth on an all-inclusive package. We’re orbiting the Sun at a speed of 30 km/s, but we don’t sense that down here on Earth. It is up to the astronaut, looking down on Earth from their position in space, to send us a clear message on how small and vulnerable our Earth is, how we need to care for our environment and climate, and how senseless fighting wars and building walls is.
We also expect to make important medical discoveries into the behavior of the female body that can be applied in the field of medicine on Earth too. Here we’re talking about things like eyesight, our sense of balance, the cardiovascular system, how the body sweats, our skin, and our hormonal behavior.
Right now, we’re hearing a lot about reusable SpaceX rockets being a game changer. Are there other technologies that can or will “disrupt” space flight?
Yes, there are a great many companies, particularly in the US. One of them is Blue Origin, owned by the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. He wants to fly tourists into space from 2018. Although, it will only be suborbital flight – so no orbiting the Earth. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will be offering the same thing. Then there’s Robert Bigelow, a hotel owner from Las Vegas. He wants to build private space hotels and operate them from 2020. He’s already tested an initial prototype with NASA last year on the ISS. And then there’s a whole string of companies in the Silicon Valley working in the areas of Earth observation, communication, and navigation. Aerospace will change significantly in the next 10 years.
Your project “Die Astronautin” wants to put the first German woman into space by 2020. How many years has this taken since the first German space flight? How many German men have been to space already?
In 1978, Sigmund Jähn became the first German in space–so it will be 42 years if we succeed in putting the first German woman into space in 2020. Germany has had more astronauts than any other European country–so far 11 German men have been in space.
The finalists will be starting their training for ISS Mission 2020 in 2017. How many applicants did they have to beat to get to this stage? What are optimal skills for an astronaut?
When we asked for applicants a year ago, 480 women applied. Apart from scientific and technical knowledge and physical health and fitness, the applicants had to demonstrate a passion for space flight, courage and a thirst for adventure, discipline and reliability, and a strong sense of team spirit and a capacity for decision-making.
“Die Astronautin” is a crowdfunding project. Why are you taking this route and what are you collecting money for specifically?
“Die Astronautin” is a private venture, in other words, we are attempting to cover the costs for the astronaut’s training and flight with the help of crowdfunding, sponsors and donations. The current crowdfunding campaign on Startnext is intended to help us fund the initial training modules.
Ada Lovelace Festival is supporting Die Astronautin.
You can crowdfund Die Astronautin HERE.