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Cambridge engineer Dr Jenni Sidey-Gibbons joins NASA-led Lunar Gateway mission to the moon

A Cambridge engineer could be among the first people to return to the moon as part of a new project spearheaded by NASA.

The University of Cambridge's Dr Jenni Sidey-Gibbons, also a Canadian astronaut, will be among colleagues at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) vying to get on board a new space station designed to orbit the moon and allow its crew to complete tasks on the lunar surface.

Canada has formed a new partnership in the NASA-led Lunar Gateway – an international collaboration in human space exploration.

Dr Jenni Sidey-Gibbons could be going to the moon as part of a new lunar project
Dr Jenni Sidey-Gibbons could be going to the moon as part of a new lunar project

About one-fifth the size of the International Space Station (ISS), it will orbit the moon and provide living space for astronauts, a docking station for visiting aircraft, and laboratories for research.

Canada’s contribution to the gateway will be a smart robotic system – Canadarm3 – that will repair, maintain and inspect the Gateway. It will move equipment, support spacewalks, assemble and deploy scientific instruments, and handle scientific samples collected on the moon’s surface.

Dr Sidey-Gibbons was recruited to the CSA as a member of the 2017 NASA astronaut class. A Lecturer in Internal Combustion Engines at the University of Cambridge, she is one of the department of engineering’s ambassadors for engineering diversity and helped form Cambridge Robogals in 2014, an international, not-for-profit, student-run organisation that aims to increase female participation in STEM.

Cambridge engineer could be heading for the moon (8816336)
Cambridge engineer could be heading for the moon (8816336)

A delighted Dr Sidey-Gibbons said: “With the announcement that Canada will be a part of NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, I feel excited and hopeful for our space programme.

“Not only will we have the opportunity to take Canadian concepts to the moon, but we will benefit from the science and technology we develop to help get us there. Personally, I feel ecstatic at the opportunities in front of us. Going to the moon in the Apollo era changed what we thought was possible. Returning to the moon in a sustainable capacity will do the same.”

A CSA spokeswoman added: “Canada’s anticipated benefits in participating in the Gateway and Lunar programme will ensure a bright future for Canada’s astronaut programme by securing flight opportunities for our current and future astronauts. It will also allow the Canadian science community to perform scientific investigations around and on the surface of the moon, and to test cutting-edge technologies in the harsh environment of deep space and radiation.”

The gateway will be a science laboratory; a testbed for new technologies; a rendezvous location for exploration of the surface of the moon; a mission control centre for operations on the moon; and one day, a stepping stone for voyages to Mars.

When fully assembled, the gateway will include modules for scientific research and living quarters for crews of four astronauts. They will be able to live and work on the gateway for up to three months at a time, occasionally travelling to the lunar surface to conduct science and test new technologies. Eventually, these missions could last longer in order to prepare for the deeper-space missions of the future.

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