An aspiring Irish astronaut is currently on a simulated moon mission

21 May 2021

Members of the HECATE crew, including Cillian Murphy (second from right). Image: Irish Research Council

Cillian Murphy is hoping to be one of the first Irish people to travel in space – but for now he is working on a simulated flight to the moon.

An aspiring Irish astronaut is currently on a simulated space mission aimed at recreating conditions on board a flight to the moon.

Dubliner Cillian Murphy is one of six international ‘analog’ astronauts on the HECATE mission. Analog astronauts are used for technical tests and simulation in a bid to enhance space exploration.

HECATE, or Human Exploration in a Closed Analog Terrestrial Environment, is taking place at the LunAres Research Station in Poland. This is a special facility that simulates the conditions of space travel and research – without the zero gravity.

During the two-week mission, the crew will study the impact of isolation on astronauts, investigate plant cultivation in space, and test tech to improve spacewalking. Murphy is medical officer for the mission and is responsible for physical and psychological experiments.

The Irishman has a master’s degree in space and science technology from University College Dublin. In 2018, he received a special traineeship award from the Irish Research Council to work with the European Space Agency (ESA)

“Curiosity about space has inspired us for hundreds of years, and the Irish Research Council is proud to have supported many excellent space researchers,” said Peter Brown, director of the Irish Research Council.

“The HECATE mission will provide rich data for researchers and inform future ESA space missions and partnerships. It is very encouraging to see Irish participants, such as Cillian, involved in European space activities and it is just one example of the kind of opportunities that open up with Ireland’s membership of ESA.”

In addition to his work on the HECATE mission, Murphy has recently applied to the ESA’s open call for astronauts. The space agency is currently looking to recruit new astronauts for the first time in more than a decade.

Murphy said that his ESA traineeship provided him with a “life-changing opportunity” to pursue his goal of becoming an astronaut.

“The experience of working with the ESA confirmed for me that I want to dedicate my career to astronomical research and space exploration,” he added.

“I am delighted to be participating in the HECATE mission to gain a simulated insight into what space travel is actually like. Following this, I aim to become one of the first Irish people ever to travel in space.”

It’s a busy time for the European space industry. EU leaders recently signed off on a new €14.8bn space programme and launched a new space-related agency.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic