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My Leeds Story - Matthias Maurer
Episode 724th March 2021 • My Leeds Story • Alumni & Development at Leeds
00:00:00 00:30:15

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At the University of Leeds we have a shared commitment to work together to make a positive global impact. But for one former Leeds student, his influence is truly out of this world.

In this special edition of My Leeds Story, Mark is in conversation with Matthias Maurer, an astronaut with the European Space Agency. They discuss Matthias’s upcoming mission to the International Space Station, explore the impact Leeds had on his journey to becoming an astronaut, and reflect on the value of international collaboration.



Here at the university. Steve leads, we have a shared commitment to work together to make a positive, global impact. But for one former lead student, his influence is truly out of this world. In this special edition of my lead story. Mark is in conversation with Mathias Marah. And astronauts with the European space agency, they discuss Matea says upcoming mission to the international space station.


And talk about your, um, career as well. But I just wonder if you could start by just really briefly introducing who you are and what you do. Yes. So my name is Martinez Murra I'm a well, he's an astronaut currently in training for my very first space flight mission. I hope to fly in autumn 2021 to the international space station.

Thanks for noticing. And obviously a lot of young children would dream of becoming an astronauts and going to space. Was that how your journey started in terms of space and wanting a passion from, from a young age to want to go into space? Actually not the I'm from an age where flying to space was.

very special. Um, I mean, I [:

And I switched on TV and I saw on TV that ISA is looking for new astronauts. And I thought like, hang on. What does next astronaut actually do in space? And that. So, and then I sorted through and I figured out, okay, the astronauts today are scientists. They love technology because we write on rockets to space and we need the best technology that's out there.

hope that I would become an [:

Uh that's that's fantastic. And you, you spoke there about your background as a scientist and your current role, uh, and you mentioned also you studied in different countries. I know you gained a doctorate in material science and engineering, and as a scientist, you've achieved national recognition for research before this transition to becoming an astronaut.

But, um, I just wonder if you could tell us why it's important, uh, to, to have that scientific, uh, Background in that. Um, and how that, that helps you in your current role? Yeah. Well, the very first astronauts that flew to space, they were test pilots because at that time, flying to space was the main challenge.

t up and down takes only one [:

But the major part of my mission is. Being in space and working as a scientist. Thanks for tennis. And, um, we, you, you mentioned briefly some of your many qualifications, but I just wonder if you could take us back to that time in 1993, where you spent a year studying material science and materials, engineering and leads, um, what took you to leads and tell us a little bit about your, your memories of studying in Yorkshire.

Well, yeah, actually leads is the beginning of it all. I believe it's, um, The year before coming to Leeds, I was traveling around Ireland with my motorbike and I thought like, wow, my English is not good enough. And then like, as an engineer, I should speak proper English and India is so important. So I screened a little bit, which universities in the UK, or maybe even Ireland would be appropriate.

nce and. Being in leads that [:

So I studied material science while at the same time, getting a full exposure to a different culture, different language. And I was so eye-opening so enriching. That I thought like, wow, that's exactly the way how people should study because you learn so much at the same time. It's way more fulfilling than studying back home and in the UK.

Um, while studying them, I learned about a new exchange program from my home university in Germany. And that exchange program allowed me to continue straight from Leeds on to France. And I started one and a half years in France and then half a year in Spain. And in the end I got a diploma from four different universities.

And so it's like, I [:

Do you, uh, did you pick up any Yorks or words on during your time with us? Well, there's like, it's only 93, so it's a long time ago, but don't assume, remember, born and bred yes in York. But I love to time in leads for all the life events, the concerts. I think that's such a brilliant place, much better than we had in Germany.

, uh, title here, but deputy [:

Flight center. He received, uh, a doctorate in, uh, biome, meteorology from the university of Leeds back in 1981. Um, so I just wonder how does it feel to follow in the footsteps of astronauts like peers and what you learn from their experiences? Well, it's like, uh, I'm surprised I didn't notice the effect, but on the other hand, I'm not surprised because leads is such a, like such a renowned university.

eagues work, um, like peers, [:

Well, yeah, it's like the astronauts, we all work together. And every little piece of work that we contribute, we'll build a future for the next generation of astronauts and the way P S spirit, the international space station. It's a, we are now in the preparation to build the next step, um, which is this flight towards the moon.

So in a few years we would see a small station being built. That will fly around the moon and, um, between 24 and 28, this will be built. And from there. Um, hopefully the first European would also then land on the moon still in this decade. So then what an exciting prospect that will be as well. Um, thinking about your route towards becoming an astronaut, you sort of alluded to it already.

this. Well, over a decade, I [:

It's been 13 years between my application to become used to astronauts and my space flight. And so a long, long period and several ups and downs. So it all started during the astronaut selection process in 2008, 2009. It's like we had eight and a half thousand applications. And in the end we had 10 persons who passed all tests.

And the director general at that time said like, U-turn, you could all fly to space. But unfortunately I only have six tickets and you Mathias, you will not fly to space. So that was when you are so close and then the bus, you, sorry, it's not your fault. It's uh, the system doesn't provide the logistic for it.

, I definitely. Wanted to be [:

And that, that was, I got so much positive energy. And then, um, like in 2014, 2015, when my boss came to me and said like, ah, we got more tickets. I still, I felt like I, how you choking? It's like, obviously, yes. It's. I think the lesson that I learned it's um, if you really have a dream and you wanna, you wanna achieve something, just don't let the first obstacle stop.

international space station [:

Um, just tell us about. That mission and your roles. And I say roles because you will have multiple roles to play within that team. Yes, that's correct. So the very first European astronaut who will fly on a commercial vehicle is my colleague Tomar, pesky from France. He will launch on the 22nd of April and I'm his backup.

So in case something happens, I might need to fly earlier, but I'm pretty sure I will have to wait till October. And, um, then I will be the second European who flies on, uh, on the space X dragon. And I will have a handover of Toma, uh, on the space station and tomorrow he has already been on the station and he, by the time I arrive, he will be the commander.

ems and also getting a quick [:

Some experiments are completed. I will also have a lot of material science experiments on board of the station and they are, will throw my, all the lessons that I learned in Litesa and different universities. No, that's great. Like you said, you'll, you'll not only be doing research experiments, but you'll also be the subject of those research experiments as well.

bit less, like, for example, [:

So I get over it. It's not my favorite part. And then from a personal perspective, what do you think will be the most challenging aspect of this trip? You mentioned you're up there for, for six months. You said that the journey either way, it was only a day. So what is it that some, you think you're going to have to rely on all that resilience for the most.

Yeah. So when we are selected, we are selected for a long duration space flights. And, um, so the most important part that the psychologist look at candidates that applied to become an astronaut is, um, the social competence to work in a team effectively. I mean, six months being in space. There are moments when there's a lot of stress and you have people from different countries, different cultures, different languages.

. We have Americans, we have [:

It's not yet decided if there might be a Russian cosmonaut joining us. Um, and on board of the station, I have two, uh, Russian cosmos colleagues and maybe another American. And so I'm pretty happy with the team. We all are good friends, good colleagues. And I think we will have a perfect time on board. Did challenging part, um, for.

te between you and vacuum of [:

And for me, there's the option that I might have an Eva either in the American space suit or, and that is still being a kind of disgust to perform it with Russian colleagues because the Russians would bring up a new module and on this module will be a new European, robotic arm. And the there's a chance for me also to work on the Russian side.

You mentioned that the space will start, you set a dream for any, any astronauts. Um, but thinking there about the complexity of some of the training you've had to do, and you mentioned international collaboration, I just wonder, um, yeah. Tell us a bit about the training regime. How has that been? What surprised you the most?

ally I think what was really [:

Yes, that's true. Um, communication is the most important aspect. And it's even if you speak the language properly, sometimes there are communication problems. Um, when you talk with the ground, for example, I had another small problem. Let me phrase it this way. When I was, uh, In the Nimo training, that was a training underwater.

I lived there 16 days in a station, 20 meters below the surface of the water on the bottom of the sea. And it was a training provided by NASA. So we had the team in the station on the ground and we explored the bottom of the sea, which for us was the surface of Mars. And one day we thought like, okay, today's plan actually has some Slack in there and let's optimize it.

So we shifted around [:

Please, never, ever again, change a plan before you have our approval. And that actually is it it's. We are in space, seven astronauts, but on the ground, there are literally hundreds of people working for us and it's a big machinery and, um, it's all been optimized. And even as an astronaut in space, you don't know all the details.

e flying, uh, and the dragon [:

Yeah, so far, um, all the astronauts have been flowing to space either in a space shuttle or in the last 10 years or the soils and the Russian capsule. And, um, so the soil has, has been developed around 50 years ago and now having the dragon space X, which is brand new. And if you look at that automobile automobile industry, and you compare, for example, the folks wagon beetle it with an electric half today, you can immediately see that there's a huge development and the same development is now in.

pacecraft using an iPad. Um, [:

For the dragon it's more or less like plug and play. Um, you would see later this year, there will be tourist flights, where there are no professional astronauts on board. They fly around our planet in a dragon capsule, fully controlled from Michelin control for us. It's um, my mission on the flight with the eyes as I have a commander who is a very experienced test pilot.

ng up, um, space development [:

And I guess it would be remiss of me not to touch on, um, the impact of COVID on your training, your preparations. Obviously I'm speaking to you here today from my own bedroom. Um, so, uh, yeah, just tell us how that's affected you over the last year and, and, and what impact that's had on the training. You're speaking from your bedroom to my bedroom and you see that like COVID is affects everyone the same.

So, um, well, when I'm in training, I wear a mask and, um, we also apply the standard, um, precautions, like wash the hands, sanitize, everything. We're always a mask, keep social distancing. We have only a limited lumber of trainers with us because we want to have like a small number of people in the room, just to make sure that if somebody is infected, that we don't have a super spread event.

eah. So, uh, that affects us [:

What we have here on the ground. So yeah, definitely it affected us all. It affected also the preparation of the mission, the building of the hardware and the building of the rocket everywhere. All the teams have been affected. But, um, yeah, I believe we adapted and, um, hopefully as soon everyone will be vaccinated and then we, uh, Can return to a more normal thing.

m peak, uh, previously who's [:

What tips would you give to students, perhaps, even students that are studying at Leeds right now, uh, who were hoping to get into space exploration in the future. Well, I mean, Israel has currently an astronaut selection open, so that's the unique chance because in Europe it's not every four years, like it is in NASA.

It's more like 10 to 15 years. So everyone who has the big space stream should apply. Now it's the unique chance, but I wouldn't bet like all my chances on becoming an astronaut, there are a lot of fascinating jobs out there and being in science or being as an engineer or working in the space sector in general.

who are currently in Leeds. [:

You also learn a lot about yourself and your own country. Great. And we touched on it before, but, um, in terms of the role that. Private industry is now playing in space exploration, but I just wonder if you could reflect and, uh, help us dream a little bit about the future of a space fight. For instance, do you think in our lifetime, we'll see a human land on Mars.

Obviously we've been watching with great interest, the, uh, the feed that's come back with the perseverance, uh, or. Like you alluded to earlier, your focus is more on perhaps becoming the first European to land on the moon. Well, it's like I'm part of a team who's dreaming to become the first European on the moon.

re. Who's studying now. It's [:

And I'm a big fan of Elon Musk. It's the founder of space X and he has the great vision of flying to Mars. And, uh, so he's pushing the envelope quite a bit. And, um, he's building a huge new space craft, which is called the stash it and, um, So, and he has such a pace and he says like he wants to fly actually in the next four or five years, two months.

Um, I think that's maybe a little bit too ambitious, but we need ambitious people to push the envelope. And, um, even if it's not four to five years and only 10 years or 15 years, I'm very positive that I will see people land on Mars. And that's what we need. We need people on the ground to share their emotions, to share their dreams, to explore it because.

weeks that what, um, a Rover [:

Yes. Um, so we fly to space and in Europe, it's very important that we share why we fly to space. And in the past, we always were instruct to say like every Euro that we invest into space brings back a 1.4, 1.8 euros. So. This is economically correct, but I think it's absolutely not inspiring to talk about these numbers and people, people actually, every one of us looks in the evening to the night sky and asked the same questions and the questions are like, how did all this come to being?

our planet earth? And these [:

And it's around 4,000 years old. And it's the first realistic illustration of the night sky. And for me, that was such a. And inspiration to look at this sky disk and to see like, wow, the people 4,000 years ago, they actually fed exactly what we've heard today. When we look at the night sky, we want to understand, we want to know, and we are fascinated by the idea that there's life out there.

my children, uh, Rupert aged [:

But before I do that, I just wanted to thank you so much for joining us. Your story is one that's inspiring. And one that we can't wait to share with the rest of our leads, alumni community. So we're so thankful that you had a positive time in leads and we're rooting for you over the next few months as well.

Yeah. I mean, it's like, uh, I think that today is the beginning and I hope that we keep in contact also during the space flight missions. So yeah, just as we finish, I'm aware you're incredibly busy, but I've got two questions for you. One from my son Rupert. So his question is, hi, my name's Reed and I'm seven years old.

big difference. I would say. [:

Yeah. Um, we need to fly very fast. It's 28,000 kilometers power. Um, I'm sorry, I don't have this in my spouse, but it's roughly 30 times the speed of a plane in the sky. Hi, I'm Kevin I'm five years. Why am I looking for, to about down to space? My favorite part is, and I've been dreaming about this for a long time.

It's like I fly in the dragon capsule and it's a small capsule and we only have two small windows and I fly to the space to space and I want to see our planet and flying at 28,000 kilometers per hour means that we have, uh, the, uh, around the world trip every 19 minutes. So every 19 minutes, I see a sunrise and a sunset.

ut big window on the station [:

Um, I do really appreciate you taking the time and I know you've got one of our university patches to, to join you on, uh, uh, as you go up there as well. Yes. The university of Leeds patch will fly with me to space. That's brilliant. Uh Metasys I wish you the best of luck for the rest of your training. Um, and again, thank you so much for joining us today.

Thank you very much for this opportunity and well hello to everyone and leads. Listening to my leads at story, a podcast series brought to you by the alumni team at the university of Leeds. More stories about our global leads community. Why not visit our website, Or join us on our social media at, at Leeds alumni.

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