US SPACE agency Nasa has chosen the Republic as its first global research partner, seen by some as the first steps towards sending an Irish astronaut into space.
The space agency is partnering with Irish universities to give scientists a chance to work at the world’s leading research facilities in the US.
Following two years of negotiations, the initiative will be officially announced tomorrow at Trinity College by Nasa administrator Gen Charles Bolden. Tim Quigley, a retired naval officer and former commander of Moffet Airfield at the Ames base in California, was the go-between who pushed to ensure that this State leads the project.
“Our intent is to provide and enrich Irish scientists with an opportunity to partner and learn and contribute to the spectrum of science and engineering and research opportunities that exposure to Nasa and its resources would enable,” he said.
“My long-term goal is to have a native Irish astronaut in Nasa . . . That ought to be the national goal.”
The Irish consulate in San Francisco has been negotiating with Nasa for the past two years to ensure the Republic is the first country to officially partner the US space agency.
It is expected the initial agreement will mean two Irish undergraduates travel to the US annually to work and study at the Ames base in Silicon Valley. All Irish universities will be asked to participate.
The Ames station houses 2,500 researchers, scientists and technology developers and has an annual budget in excess of $750 million (€600 million). The base is among the world’s leading research centres, particularly when it comes to efforts to locate life on other planets.
Nasa sources said they hope the project will be extended to the agency’s 10 bases in America and that if the partnership with the Republic is successful, other countries would be invited to participate. Mr Quigley said several European and Arab states and Israel competed with the Republic to lead the project. Nasa decided in our favour after lobbying by the Irish consulate in San Francisco and Mr Quigley.