Australia’s first formal astronaut in training has been appointed as an honorary group captain in the RAAF.
Katherine Bennell-Pegg, the ASA’s director of space technology, is the first Australian to train as an astronaut under the Australian flag.
She previously served as a reservist in the Army and said the skills she learned in Defence have helped her in her civil astronaut training.
“It is an absolute honour to represent my country as the first astronaut trained under the Australian flag,” she said.
“Through my training, I see astronaut candidates with Defence backgrounds being highly successful, given the overlap in competencies required for astronauts.
“I see real potential in Australia harnessing Defence training to help develop potential future astronauts.”
While on an official visit to participate in the Combined Space Operations Initiative in Berlin, then-Space Commander Air Vice-Marshal Catherine Roberts presented Bennell-Pegg with an Australian Air Force uniform.
“While this flying suit is made of green thread, we are united by a golden thread to inspire young people and particularly young women into exciting STEM space careers,” Air Vice-Marshal Roberts said.
“We all look up at the stars with a sense of wonder. Imagine how incredible it is to work with that sense of wonder every day.
“The most rewarding part of being first is you get to inspire others to reach new heights. We stand here today to show the next generation of Australian space talent that with hard work, courage and determination, you really can reach the stars.”
Alongside being Australia’s first formal astronaut in training, Bennell-Pegg is also the first Australian woman to be trained by an international space agency.
Her studies, taking place in Germany, began in April and will continue until the middle of next year. There is no guarantee she will necessarily be selected for a mission.
“I have always dreamed of being an astronaut,” she said earlier this year. “When I was young, it was for the adventure, but after more than a decade working in space, it’s now because I know the role it plays in tackling real-world problems and developing new knowledge that can benefit our society, environment and science.
“It’s been a privilege to play a part in shaping our growing space sector in Australia in recent years, and I now look forward to contributing even more through this historic opportunity.
“I want to use this experience to open doors for Australian scientists and engineers to utilise space for their discoveries, to inspire the pursuit of STEM careers, and show all Australians that they too can reach for the stars.”
Bennell-Pegg is a dual Australia–UK citizen and privately applied to join the European Astronaut Corp when it was advertised in 2021.
It was the first selection process since 2009, and she was one of only 25 people to complete the program from 22,500 eligible applicants.
The news came shortly after it was announced University of New South Wales (UNSW) PhD graduate Dr Meganne Christian would become Australia’s first female astronaut after being selected to take part in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) astronaut training program.
However, unlike Bennell-Pegg, dual citizen Christian will technically be representing the United Kingdom.