WHEN the astronauts on the International Space Station beam down to Earth for a chat with Mission Control, there’s a good chance there’ll be an Aussie accent on the other end.
That accent belongs to Adelaide-born Andrea Boyd who works as the International Space Station (ISS) operations engineer and is the only Australian who works with the ISS.
When you hear astronauts talk to “Houston” in the movies, that’s basically her, she says but she’s in Cologne, Germany. She is the voice of Europe for the ISS.
There is generally six astronauts aboard the ISS from the participating countries of the US, Russia, Japan and Europe. They have scheduled calls with Mission Control and Earth-dwelling colleagues like Ms Boyd are always on hand “in case they have any issues”, she said. “That’s always the most fun part of my job.”
And given that the ISS is usually running about 200 experiments at any given time, there’s always something that could go awry.
“That ranges from basic sciences like physics, chemistry, to applied biology or to specific medicines,” Ms Boyd said.
The ISS provides a unique environment to conduct research and it’s important for scientists to better understand the impact micro gravity and the presence of space radiation has on human biology. “The ISS is definitely the proving ground to try and get more into deep space, and try and figure out how to live and work.”
And then there’s other important things, like making a cup of coffee in space.
“Putting an espresso machine in space, that was one of my favourites (experiments),” she said. “It might not sound sciencey but there was lots of fluid mechanics involved.”
Trailer for film Life. The six-member crew of the International Space Station is on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. But the life form proves more intelligent than anyone ever expected. Stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds
Aside from helping astronauts push humanity further into the final frontier, there are other perks of the job like getting exclusive previews of the movie Life, released this year.
Starring the likes of Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal, the movie, which takes place on board the space station, tells the story of a crew of ISS astronauts who discover a multi-celled organism on a probe returning from Mars.
Friends of hers from the European Space Agency worked on the film and as a result she says in terms of the details about the ISS, the movie is very accurate.
At a crucial turning point in the film, the Martian organism breaks out of a containment module on board the space station and starts killing astronauts.
“That’s the exact module that we use all the time for experiments that need extra containment,” she said, which isn’t all that comforting to think about.
While she doesn’t expect us to discover human-devouring Martian samples any time soon, when it comes to finding life on Mars, she says “never say never”.
“We’ve got a couple rovers on the surface right now and about six orbiters from India, Europe, the US and Russia,” Ms Boyd said. All the world’s major space agencies are focused on finding signs of life and “there’s definitely the possibility”.
Ms Boyd was recently part of a team that successfully bid for Adelaide to host the International Astronautical Congress in September this year.
“It’s like the Olympics of space,” she said of the campaign to get the Congress to be held in Australia, beating out the US and Germany for the honour.
The event will bring 3000 professionals and astronauts from every space agency and private company in the space industry in the world to the South Australian capital later this year and is expected to bring about $18 million in direct revenue to the state.