What it takes to become Australia's first woman astronaut

Once we're up there, my team and I expect to conduct research on Earth's atmosphere. It's an opportunity I consider out of this world. But it has taken a lot of effort for this dream to be realized.

My path to PoSSUM

As a female STEM and legal professional, my past jobs included working as a research scientist in mining and metals for BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)—but I always loved .

After combining my science degree with two law degrees, I won a scholarship for the International Space University. I eventually received an Australian Government Endeavour Executive Award for a project at the NASA Kennedy Space Centre. With this I pivoted towards a career in the space industry, and have never looked back.

I was selected as a PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) Scientist-Astronaut candidate and global ambassador for 2021. PoSSUM is a non-profit US astronautics research and education program run by the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS).

The program uses next-generation suborbital spacecraft to study the upper atmosphere and its potential role in global climate change. Generally speaking, a suborbital spaceflight is any flight that reaches an altitude higher than 80km, but doesn't escape Earth's gravity to make it into orbit.

Kim Ellis Hayes (top, third from right) with others from the International Space University, in front of the Shuttle Atlantis at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Author provided

In the captain’s seat of the NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour. Author provided

If all goes to plan, the team might go to space in a Virgin Galactic Unity 22 vehicle — or potentially in another similar spacecraft. Credit: Virgin Galactic/EPA