Alumna Katherine Bennell-Pegg makes history as Australia's first astronaut

10 May 2024
From Sydney to the stars
In a giant leap for Australian space exploration, University of Sydney alumna Katherine Bennell-Pegg has realised her childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, graduating from the European Space Agency.

After 13 months of rigorous training, mastering spacewalking, spacecraft systems, robotics, flight engineering and sea survival, Katherine Bennell-Pegg now holds the distinction of being the first person to qualify as an astronaut under the Australian flag.

Katherine's journey to realising this historic achievement traces back to a childhood fascination with the clear, starry skies of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, where she grew up. Learning that the glittering stars were just the beginning of the cosmos sparked her curiosity in the scale of the universe.

During her high school years, Katherine’s fascination turned into a passion. When asked to write down three career options by a teacher, she only wrote one – astronaut. Her dedication to that goal did not waver throughout her studies. She excelled in academics and engaged in extracurriculars like aerobatic flying lessons, amateur astronomy, sport and debating, all tailored to a future in space exploration. During her university years, she joined the Australian Army Reserve, volunteered for the NSW SES, and worked as a physics researcher and computer programmer.

When Katherine graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Engineering (Aeronautical Engineering) (Space) and Bachelor of Science (Physics) from the University of Sydney, Australia was one of two member nations of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development without its own space agency. Unable to continue growing her career locally, she sought out opportunities abroad. Over the next decade she worked for Airbus on various space projects, ranging from human spaceflight missions to Earth observation initiatives.

During this time Katherine had two daughters with her husband, fellow University of Sydney alumnus and spacecraft engineer, Campbell Pegg (B Sc ’08, BE (Aeronautical) ’08).

In 2018, the Australian Federal Government announced funding to establish the Australian Space Agency. The following year, the Bennell-Pegg family returned to Australia with Katherine and Campbell both taking up roles at the newly founded organisation.

Katherine started as the Assistant Manager of Space Capability and Robotics and Automation before being promoted to Director of Space Technology in 2022. In the same year, her lifelong dream was answered when she was invited as one of only 25 applicants - and the only international applicant - to join the European Space Agency’s astronaut training program, standing out from more than 22,500 eligible candidates.

This April, she graduated from the program alongside five others, earning her official title as Australian Astronaut for missions to the International Space Station and beyond. With her graduation, Katherine hopes to inspire future generations to pursue their dreams in STEM fields.

"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", she told the Australian Space Agency.

As an alumna of the University of Sydney, Katherine embodies the spirit of curiosity and innovation that defines our institution. Her career demonstrates the power of determination and the boundless potential inherent in pursuing one's dreams. Our community celebrates Katherine’s historic achievement and looks forward to following her journey.

Katherine Bennell-Pegg: Into The Light

Katherine takes the audience on a journey from a childhood realisation of how vast our universe is, to the knowledge gained when we explore the unknown in this video by the Australian Space Agency.

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