From science fiction to science fact: Why I applied to become the first German woman in space – Lisa Marie Haas, ‘The Female Astronaut’ Candidate

Die Astronautin candidates group photo

Lisa Marie Haas is a development engineer and project manager at Robert Bosch GmbH in Reutlingen, a company specialising in sensors used in consumer electronics, such as mobile phones, games consoles, wearables and drones. She studied at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Heidelberg. Lisa Marie is one of six women to have made it to the final of a selection process for a crowdfunded project to become the first German woman in space – Die Astronautin – ‘The Female Astronaut’ 

Lisa Marie Haas

Lisa Marie Haas

“…The Earth’s thin atmosphere is what’s keeping us all alive from the vacuum of space and all its harsh conditions, like radiation. Our atmosphere is what protects us, so I think that seeing that from space would change me as a person forever…” 

From science fiction to science fact

It’s been a dream ever since my childhood. I’ve wanted to be an astronaut for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been fascinated by space and the science that relates to it. I decided to follow the direction on science when I was in school – mine was the first school that had a special science class taught to younger pupils.

Cats Eye Nebula

Cat’s Eye Nebula

At the same time, I started taking an interest in science fiction – especially Star Trek. I was fascinated that it was very common for women to have really powerful positions – they were scientists and it was totally natural that they had an even rank and the same responsibilities as the men. They were doing fascinating jobs – being doctors or astrophysicists and they were explorers, they were at the frontier. I was totally inspired by this thought.

Later on in school I took a strong interest in physics and I participated in a content called Jugend forscht (which is literally translates as “Youth explorers”). I started participating in physics and doing a lot of experiments. This was the first real contact I had with science. Just before I started my physics studies I thought: “Should I choose space science or physics?” I decided to go with my dream of studying physics. I had a minor in astrophysics throughout my studies because space and cosmology still fascinated me so much.

My ambition to become the first female German astronaut

As I was handing in my thesis there was a call for ESA astronauts (in 2008-2009). At the time, I had my thesis in my hand and I felt I was just too young to apply. It felt like it was five years too early and it was such a shame. So, I decided to go into industry and I joined Bosch in Reutlingen. I’m working in the semiconductor industry and I’m doing the packaging for consumer electronics, which is a very applied field in engineering and I love working within it.

Then, one day I saw the online application for the first female astronaut in Germany and I thought: “I have to take this chance. It’s probably my last one.” And this is how I ended up in the process! In the role of astronaut, you’re basically an explorer. You’re at the forefront of all the knowledge we have here on Earth and you’re taking that forward in space. You’re doing science and carrying out experiments, which I love.

Passion for science and discovery

I’ve been so lucky throughout my studies and my Ph.D. that I always loved what I did, even though it can sometimes be really frustrating when it doesn’t work and you can’t see a solution, in the end there is always one to be found. All the hard work pays off and you’re rewarded by something that has never been discovered before, and something that nobody else has ever thought about. That’s the payback for all your hard work.

I have the same passion for the products I develop when I can hold them in my hand. It’s incredible to know how many people are going to use them as they are distributed around the world. It’s an incredible motivation for me. Who wouldn’t want a job like that?

I think I’d have the same passion for being an astronaut. It would be such a dream to be able to go into space and to meet so many like-minded people. Science is really amazing. You should do it if you’re passionate about it!

More about Die Astronautin – ‘The Female Astronaut’

Die Astronautin is really a call to apply for a very exclusive job – and there’s only one position! I handed in my CV, together with a letter and a short video, which was how all the women applied. I think in total 480 applied and a little over 400 were taken forward as applications that could be considered.

So, they looked through our CVs, letters and videos, which helped them cut the applications down from over 400 to 120. Then we were given a medical questionnaire with around 20 pages, where they asked about your general medical situation. Then based on this they cut down to 90.

Then came the start of the testing process. First of all, they tested us for concentration, a typical pilot test, as well as English, maths and physics, technical and logical reasoning – those kinds of things. On this basis, they cut applications down from 90 to 30. So, the remaining 30 of us had the psychological evaluations – an assessment centre with questionnaires and some role playing. From 30 they then cut the number down to eight, and eight of us went into the medical examination.

The German Aerospace Center carries out the astronaut testing for ESA (the European Space Agency), so they did the same for our programme, the main difference being that we are tested for short missions and the ESA astronauts are tested for long missions. For our initiative, the goal is to send the first female astronaut to the International Space Station for 10-12 days, but they tested us in the same way as for the longer missions, except that we were spared two or three of the examinations.

We were tested very thoroughly – every cell in our bodies was turned over! (On the plus side, after all these tests I now know that I’m really healthy and everything is my body is working fine!)

Next steps

The next steps of the process are the official announcement of the last two candidates who will then be starting the training to become an astronaut. One woman will fly and the other will be a back-up. At this point in time they won’t be announcing who will fly and who is in reserve – this will only be clarified once the training has started. I’m incredibly excited for the announcement of the final two women to take place on the 19th April. It’s going to be incredibly exciting.

It’s going to cost between €30-50 million so that’s why they can only send one woman. The programme already has some big sponsors who are willing to help and there will also be more details revealed on the 19th. Readers can also help through the crowdfunding campaign.

I’m obviously incredibly excited and I’d love to be chosen, but for me worse than not being chosen myself would be if nobody got to fly. This would be so heart-breaking that I don’t even want to think about it.

Being changed by space

There are two things I’d be looking forward to if I made it into space. If I get the chance, the first thing would be upon arrival on the International Space Station to take my first look at Earth from space. This has to be the most breath-taking moment in an astronaut’s life, which changes them completely.

Whenever I look at the pictures from YouTube of astronauts in space it’s unbelievable to see them gazing down at Earth. The Earth’s thin atmosphere is what’s keeping us all alive from the vacuum of space and all its harsh conditions, like radiation. Our atmosphere is what protects us, so I think that seeing that from space would change me as a person forever.

The other thing I’d be passionate about doing would be to hold a live physics lecture from space for school pupils back on Earth where they could participate in experiments and send questions. I’d love to reach out to as many pupils as I can around the world to tell them how cool physics is and why it’s worth putting in all their effort and hard work to studying.

“Here I am!”

Role models are one of the most important things, at least in my experience, because I can only talk from my experience, but I find that girls can really hold back and they often only do things of they are 100% sure (or sometimes even more) that they are really qualified for the job. It’s completely different for boys. Men will apply for a job even if they don’t fulfil all the criteria.

Female physicistWomen, and especially those who have a family, can’t always envisage how they’re going to fit their family life with their career, but why shouldn’t they retain their ambition? Most of the time I see women holding back and maybe waiting a little bit until somebody approaches them. In many ways, this is the absolute worst thing you can do. You have to scream: “Here I am!”, even if you don’t have all of the qualifications, even if you’re not 100% sure how it’s going to turn out, even if there’s no women in this field already.

For example, my university in Heidelberg has a particular expertise in physics, but most women would go into astrophysics and bioscience. There aren’t so many women in solid state physics, theoretical physics or mathematical physics, and the only reason I can explain this is because they don’t have role models there already. There are many female professors and female Ph.Ds. in some areas but not in others.

Moving forward, I would hope this will become natural for all fields in science so women have role models to help them imagine themselves in these careers. Angela Merkel is a physicist who specialised in chemical physics, so STEM role models don’t get much better than that!

The dot on the ‘i’…

I would hope that I would be among the two candidates who will go forward into the training. It would of course be a heartbreak if I’m not chosen, but life would still go on because I have an amazing job and a loving family. In Germany, we have a saying: “It would be the dot on the ‘i’.” It would be absolutely fantastic if I was to get to be an astronaut, but I don’t have to have this experience to be able to be happy.

 

Readers can support the crowdfunding campaign here:

www.startnext.com/dieastronautin

 

http://dieastronautin.de/

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