International Alumni - Andrea Boyd

Andrea Boyd 1

This article was originally published on the ABC News website.

"I am the voice of Earth," says International Space Station flight controller Andrea Boyd, with tongue firmly in cheek.

But for astronauts circling the planet in low orbit aboard the space station, it really is her Australian accent that greets them every day as they undertake science experiments in zero gravity.

The Adelaide-born flight controller is in her eighth year working for the European Space Agency in Cologne, Germany, and has this week invited the public into her daily routine as part of National Science Week.

She says her day begins by logging into her console, before checking in with the European fight director and the rest of her control team.

"Then I'll check in with my counterparts at the other mission controls around the world, in Russia, Japan and the United States, and we'll get ready for the day before the astronauts wake up," Ms Boyd told ABC Radio Adelaide.

"We'll have a 20-minute meeting with the astronauts and with all of the mission controls, and then we get straight into work."

"It's usually a 12-hour day and the astronauts only get a break for lunch and for exercise, which is a very important part of their day."

Andrea Boyd 2

Sydney Science Trail open

Ms Boyd's role for the space industry has been highlighted by the Sydney Science Trail, an online platform that invites participants on a virtual tour of technology, Earth, animals, plants and space.

Her profile is among a selection of key Australian space icons, including the country's first astronaut, Andy Thomas, who is also from Adelaide.

She describes herself as a Star Trek fan whose role most resembles that of the fictional translator and communications officer, Nyota Uhura.

"I relay everything from all of the different teams outside of the ship and back again, making sure the communication is clear, which is a pretty important part of the control team," Ms Boyd said.


In space, no-one wants to hear you scream

Her role also includes keeping a cool head and remembering her simulation training when things do not go to plan.

"All of the simulations of things going wrong are worse than anything I've seen in real life, and anything I've seen in real life I've seen at least once in a simulation," Ms Boyd said.

"But the worst one for me wasn't even technical."

She says it happened while undertaking an audio check with a new back-up communications system.

A German astronaut onboard suggested everybody tell joke rather than perform a standard count to 10.

"But Houston decided the Euro should say it in German, with five minute's notice," Ms Boyd said.

"All of the technical stuff I'm pretty good with, but coming up with a joke in German was probably my most terrifying moment on the console."


Space image


New opportunities at home

Ms Boyd studied mechatronic engineering at the University of Adelaide and worked in Australia for several years while also doing some volunteer work to build up experience towards her dream of working for the International Space Station.

"But to work in the space industry now, you don't need to go overseas like I have, and so many others in the past," she said.

"Now we have the Australian Space Agency at home [in Adelaide], and we have lots of opportunities in all of the states around home.

"So you don't have to look too far any more and there are so many amazing opportunities, and they are just going to increase."

National Science Week runs until Sunday, while the Sydney Science Trail will be available online until September 15.

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