Two Irish graduates win chance to make their mark on space programme

Amy Joyce and Cillian Murphy to take up traineeships at European Space Agency

Two Irish graduates have spoken of their elation and disbelief at winning a “life-changing” opportunity to make their mark among some of Europe’s foremost space explorers and researchers.

Amy Joyce from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, and Cillian Murphy, from Dundrum, Co Dublin, have both won a national competition for traineeships at the European Space Agency (ESA).

The apprenticeships will see them working alongside experts on cutting-edge space programmes at the European Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid.

The competition was organised as part of an ongoing partnership between the Irish Research Council and ESA.

Ms Joyce, who has a master's degree in experimental physics from the National University of Ireland, Galway, started her stint last month and has been using ESA and Nasa satellites to detect X-rays in space and trying to discover their origins.

“It is really, really exciting,” she said.

“When I was growing up I was always into science and seeing what I could find out and discover. My secondary school teacher suggested I should follow physics, and that started a life long passion with astronomy.

“I couldn’t believe it when I was offered the position at the ESA. I had just applied in the off-chance, and when I did the interview and was told I’d got it a few weeks later, it was absolutely indescribable.”

Mr Murphy, who has a master's degree in space and science technology from University College Dublin, will work on the Gaia Mission, the ESA's ambitious programme to chart a 3D map of the Milky Way, revealing the galaxy's composition, formation and evolution.

“It was a big relief,” he said about winning to traineeship.

“I was getting a bit disillusioned with academia, having had no luck with a number of PhD applications and I ended up working in Hungary as an engineer instead.

“I was elated when I was told I got the place. I’ve definitely had a lifelong love of space. A story my mum loves to tell is that when I was five years old, I had the run of an entire bookshop to pick what I wanted, and I came back with a space encyclopedia.”

Mr Murphy hopes to work with the ESA in the future doing either astronomical research or mission control.

Peter Brown, director of the Irish Research Council, said the traineeships give the graduates a chance “to make their mark in the field of space exploration.”

“This offers the life-changing opportunity to pursue a career in Europe’s gateway to space,” he said.

“We are delighted to support both Amy and Cillian on this project and look forward to continuing to collaborate with ESA on this initiative.”

Minister of State for Training, Skills and Innovation, John Halligan described it as a unique opportunity for Ms Joyce and Mr Murphy to “train with the best” and develop their skills.