As Europe is without a manned space programme, European astronauts must ‘hitch a ride’ to get into space. Chartered engineer John O’Sullivan’s new book charts the history of European astronauts on various Russian and US spacecraft
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From Cork to Columbus, the science laboratory that is the largest contribution to the International Space Station (ISS) made by the European Space Agency, seems an unlikely journey for most people. However, courtesy of his debut book, John O’Sullivan takes readers on a fascinating voyage into space to learn and understand the European missions and the incredible modern-day explorers and real-life heroes, the European astronauts.

“While space may seem a very distant place, it is in fact only 100km away and the International Space Station is only 400km overhead. People probably don’t realise that on any given day, there are up to six people living in space, and the ISS has been continuously occupied since 2000,” explained electrical engineer John O’Sullivan. This chartered engineer has spent the last 18 months researching and writing his first book, which provides an in-depth, thorough record of European space missions and the astronauts who have shaped European space exploration and research as well as modern space history.

The history of European human spaceflight is not as straightforward as its American or Russian counterparts. Europe wasn’t a competitor in the ‘space race’. As a collection of nations with different languages, cultures and goals, the vision for space has been complex. For the first three decades of the space age, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. Even today, the European Space Agency (ESA) does not build or fly a human-rated spacecraft. As Europe isn’t a single country with a manned space programme, European citizens must ‘hitch a ride’ to get into space. This has resulted in many different routes to orbit.

Many of the American space heroes, however, have strong Irish connections. The first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, spoke with pride of his Ulster heritage. Michael Collins, the astronaut who kept the Apollo 11 Command Module in orbit while Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the surface of the moon, had ancestors from Cork. Nonetheless, although Ireland is a proud member state of the ESA, European space missions have not included any Irish astronauts to date.

O’Sullivan might have been the first Irish-born astronaut, had his application in 2008 to ESA been successful. As a qualified pilot and engineering director of Douglas Control & Automation, O’Sullivan had always held a deep interest and fascination for space. His book In the Footsteps of Columbus: European Missions to the International Space Station describes comprehensively 18 European spaceflights, from Umberto Guidoni’s STS-100 mission in 2000 through to André Kuipers’ Promisse mission in 2012.

Kuipers spoke with the author during the research for the book and agreed to write the foreword. Despite having been researched with painstaking attention to detail, the book is not a weighty academic tome for those committed to a study of space; rather it is a fascinating read for those wishing to understand the personalities and passions behind our European visits to space.

“The real heroes of this book are undoubtedly the European astronauts, who undergo rigorous training, intense and cramped periods in space and then gruelling side-effects to learn and discover more about the biology, physics and engineering of living and working in space. Their work is extremely important to developing long-term missions to Mars as well as helping us become a multi-planetary species,” explained O’Sullivan, who already has plans for a further two books on missions to the International Space Station as well as second volume of Footsteps.

“The reason I wrote this book is to highlight the contribution of Europe to the advancement of human spaceflight, a contribution largely overshadowed by the larger programmes of America and Russia,” added the author.

In the Footsteps of Columbus: European Missions to the International Space Station by John O’Sullivan, published by Springer-Praxis is available to download from Amazon now.

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From Cork to Columbus, the science laboratory that is the largest contribution to the International Space Station (ISS) made by the European Space Agency, seems an unlikely journey for most people. However, courtesy of his debut book, John O’Sullivan takes readers on a fascinating voyage into space to learn...