Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Northern Ireland student's space mission

QUB's Therese White helps with final shuttle voyage

Queen's University medical student Therese White at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida

She has boldly gone where no Northern Ireland student has gone before - or will go again.

For Queen's University's Therese White has just returned from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida where she was involved in preparations for the last mission of the Endeavour space shuttle.

The famous orbiter made headlines around the world on Wednesday when it was retired after 19 years of space exploration.

Therese from Mayobridge, Co Down, beat off stiff competition from around the world to win one of just two coveted internships at the Kennedy Space Centre.

However, the achievement is even more remarkable as the fourth-year medical student has cystic fibrosis, Northern Ireland's most common genetic disease and one that has already claimed the lives of her brother and sister.

Therese (22), was the only medical student in Europe and the first from Northern Ireland to secure the four-week placement.

The internship through the Aerospace Medicine and Occupational Health Branch of the Kennedy Space Centre provided Therese with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about the field of aerospace medicine at an operational space centre.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, she said: "I felt privileged as we were the last students to go on the internship because the shuttle programme is ending.

"Endeavour was due to launch on April 29 while we were there so the build-up was exciting, it was like waiting for Christmas Day."

Although take-off was delayed following a malfunction with a critical power unit until after Therese's departure, she watched the action unfold live on Nasa TV.

"It was surreal. I kept thinking I was on top of that space shuttle five weeks ago," she laughed.

Therese and the team assisted with the medical preparation in the lead up to the launch as well as getting an insight into the emergency contingency plans for any disaster which might occur.

She said: "It's a very different experience as we were not in contact with patients and it opened my eyes to how diverse medicine is.

"Initially it felt like they were speaking a different language. It was like stepping into a different world as it was so specialised, but by the end of it I was sad to be leaving and could have stayed for another six months."

During her placement Therese visited the Endeavour launchpad, met the crew of Atlantis and presented a research paper on infectious diseases and the risks for crews going to Mars.

"Antibiotics do not work as effectively in space so crews are at a higher risk of infection," she said.

And on her last day there Therese met a doctor who is planning to undertake research in cystic fibrosis - a topic close to her heart - and she is hoping to return to the US to assist.

Therese, who has raised more than £20,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: "It was by absolute fate that I met him. I have been offered the opportunity to go back over and be involved in research programmes with sponsorship, which I hope to do next year or after graduating in 2013."

Background

Space Shuttle Endeavour, which was the fifth and final spaceworthy Nasa space shuttle to be built, first flew in May 1992. The $2.2bn orbiter was named through a national competition involving students in schools after the HMS Endeavour, the British ship which took Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery. During its 25 missions, Endeavour travelled 122,883,151 miles and spent 296 days, three hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds in space before returning to earth from its final voyage on Wednesday.

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