Leicester space scientist proves she has what it takes to become an astronaut

Dr Suzie Imber, from the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, is a step closer to becoming an astronaut after being crowned the winner of the six-part BBC show ‘Astronauts: Have You Got What It Takes?’

Suzie fought off tough competition from 11 other exceptional candidates, chosen from thousands who applied, including scientists, engineers and pilots, to receive the ultimate reference – Chris Hadfield’s backing for her application when the space agency ESA next take on astronaut recruits.

As part of the programme, the candidates were put through a series of gruelling tests to find out who had the special qualities needed to be an astronaut using standards set by the world’s space agencies. They were assessed by astronaut and former Commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield, along with former NASA medical researcher Dr Kevin Fong, and psychologist Dr Iya Whiteley.

During the series, the candidates had remarkable access to astronaut training facilities around the world including the state-of-the-art German Space Centre, a secret facility in Sweden and NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

You can watch Suzie discussing the show and her favourite tasks below:

The 33-year-old associate professor of Planetary Science and PhD graduate of the University said: “When they announced I was the winner, I think you could tell from my expression that I was in total shock. I was standing next to two exceptional candidates who had become my friends in the process, and fully expected one of them to have won instead of me.

“I think that performing at a national level in multiple sports, combined with a PhD and a decade of research experience, allowed me to perform consistently well throughout the programme.  This type of selection process requires physical and emotional resilience, as well as testing both intellectual capacity and natural ability over a broad range of skill sets.

“I really enjoyed being part of the process, it was an incredible experience for me and I will definitely be applying for the next ESA astronaut selection round, but for now I’m really looking forward to getting back to training, and doing some research. I’m also looking forward to taking part in more public outreach events because I’ve realised how important it is for us to inspire the next generation of people who want to go and become scientists and part of that is sharing our experiences and encouraging people to go and study science.”

Suzie has held posts at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre and the University of Michigan, and is currently involved in instrument design and operation for ESA’s next mission to Mercury. Suzie was an international lacrosse player in earlier years, and is also an elite rower and a highly-experienced mountaineer.

She has written computer code to identify and map unclimbed peaks in the Andes and Himalayas before setting off to climb them herself, completing several first ascents. Suzie has been interested in space from a young age, and has spent her academic career looking at our solar system – her current research looks at terrestrial space weather and Mercury’s magnetosphere.

President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, Professor Paul Boyle, said: “Suzie winning this arduous and challenging series is a source of tremendous pride for the whole University. For an intrepid explorer who is used to scaling mountains, she has surpassed herself by achieving new heights of success.  She has done herself, her family and loved ones and the University very proud indeed.  We hope she continues to go from strength to strength in her application to become an astronaut.

“Our research scientists here at Leicester have a long and distinguished record of discovery in space science and every single year since 1967 has seen a Leicester-built instrument operating in space. Our history of space science spans over half a century and can already be seen extending far into the future with our ambitious initiative, Space Park Leicester – a University science park focused on the space industry. It is talented individuals like Suzie that help to enhance the University’s mission and reputation and provide inspiration to others. We are truly excited for her.”