Britain’s newest astronaut is preparing for his first flight into orbit next month aboard the space shuttle. Rookie Nicholas Patrick will blast off aboard the Discovery on Nasa’s latest mission to the International Space Station.
Lift-off is scheduled for December 7 when Nicholas will begin a 12-day mission with his six crewmates to the orbiting outpost.
Just like shuttle veterans Mike and Piers, Nicholas had to emigrate to the USA to pursue his dream of flying in space.
Nicholas was born in the seaside town of Saltburn, North Yorks, to parents Stewart and Gillian. It was there that he was inspired to go into space himself after watching the first men walking on the Moon as a child.
He said in a Nasa pre-mission interview: “When I was five, I saw the Apollo 11 moon landing, and that really, really caught my imagination. I remember exactly where I was, watching it with my parents. And from that point on, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut.
“That’s the one interest that’s really stuck with me through my childhood and through my subsequent education and career.”
Nicholas added: “I was amazed that anybody could be that far away, wondering whether they’d all come back safely. And maybe this meant that we would all be going to the Moon someday soon, and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Nicholas moved from Yorkshire to London and was educated at top public school Harrow before studying a degree in engineering at Trinity College, Cambridge. He learned to fly with the university’s RAF squadron.
But after graduating, he moved to the States and worked for aerospace company Boeing designing rocket engines before being spotted by Nasa and beginning astronaut training in 1998.
His training has included long spells living and working underwater off the Florida Keys – an environment that simulates space.
Nicholas’s main task aboard shuttle mission STS-116 will be to operate the robotic controls. He will help pull a giant truss out of the ship’s payload bay and use a long robot arm to manouevre it so that spacewalking colleagues can install it.
The mission is the most complex that Nasa has ever attempted and will include a rewiring of the station’s electricity supply.
Nicholas, whose expertise was used to redesign part of the shuttle’s control panel, relaxes by playing squash and shooting. Photo: Nasa.