Shooting for the moon: Sussex graduate announced as new European Space Agency astronaut

Dr Rosemary Coogan after her 2022 PhD graduation in Brighton
Dr Rosemary Coogan after her 2022 PhD graduation in Brighton
  • Dr Rosemary Coogan completed her PhD at the University of Sussex in 2019
  • Rosemary, who showed "a deeply-rooted curiosity about space", studied star formation and super-massive black holes in distant galaxies
  • "We’re all incredibly proud" says University’s head of astronomy

A recent graduate of the University of Sussex has been announced as one of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) new astronauts. Dr Rosemary Coogan is a newly appointed ’career astronaut’ for the ESA, following her studies at Sussex between 2015 and 2019, which focused on super-massive black holes and the formation of stars.

Dr Stephen Wilkins , Head of Astronomy at the University of Sussex’ School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, said:

"Rose was a PhD candidate at the University of Sussex until 2019. While here, Rose studied the formation of stars and the growth of super-massive black holes in distant galaxies. It was at her graduation that I learnt that Rose had been making her way through the ESA’s selection process so it’s wonderful news to find out she’s been successful. Rose is not only a strong astrophysicist, but she has also worked hard to develop a host of skills and attributes which make her so suited to this amazing opportunity.

"To be one of only five career astronauts selected for ESA’s first intake in 13 years, from over 20,000 applicants, is an amazing achievement and we’re all incredibly proud in the Astronomy Group at the University of Sussex."

Dr Mark Sargent , who was Rosemary’s PhD supervisor and is an Honorary Reader in physics and astronomy at the University of Sussex, said:

"From the very first moment Rose contacted me to enquire about PhD options, it was clear that she had a deeply-rooted curiosity about space, and a strong desire to understand at a fundamental level our cosmic origins. It is fantastic that she will now have the opportunity to continue this journey by flying to space herself."

Rosemary is one of 17 new astronaut candidates chosen by the ESA from more than 22 500 applicants. She is one of only three astronauts chosen from the UK and the only one of those with ’career astronaut’ status.

The ESA says that their new astronaut candidates will take up duty at the European Astronaut Centre, in Cologne, in Germany. After completing 12 months of basic training, the new astronauts will be ready to enter the next Space Station training phase. Once assigned to a mission, their training will be tailored to specific mission tasks.

This news is the latest in a succession of stellar moments for the astronomy discipline at the University of Sussex. This summer, Dr Stephen Wilkins was part of the team to analyse, and shed light on, the very first images from the James Webb Space Telescope , having been involved with the telescope since before its launch. And, in March this year, Prof Xavier Calmet made headlines with the publication of research indicating he and colleagues may have resolved Stephen Hawkins’ famous black hole paradox , when they found that black holes are more complex than originally understood and have a gravitational field that, at the quantum level, encodes information about how they were formed.