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EP38 – Dr. Norah Patten’s Mission to be Ireland’s First Person in Space & a Trip to Planet Zebunar!

October 09, 2017

In this episode, I talk with Dr. Norah Patten, who is set to become Ireland’s first person in Space!

Dr. Norah Patten is the founder of Planet Zebunar, a start-up company in Ireland which specializes in designing and producing inclusive, educational Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’s (STEM) products for the next generation.

Norah is a faculty member at the International Space University; she has a BEng in Aeronautical Engineering and a PhD in Engineering from the University of Limerick. In 2016, Norah participated in the New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Program, funded by Enterprise Ireland.

She was a recipient of the Emerging Space Leaders Grant and a Next Generation Plenary panelist at the IAC in 2015. Through a partnership with NanoRacks, Norah initiated and managed ‘The Only Way is Up’ project in 2014 which launched Ireland’s first student experiment to the International Space Station.

During our conversation, we talk about how Norah signed up for the Lynx Space Flight competition back in 2013 and won through the first round via public vote. This put her into the national / public spotlight. It gave her the opportunity to talk about space on TV and the Radio, appearing on the Brendan O’Connor show at the time.

Norah grow up in Mayo with no history of aviation in the family. She went on a family holiday to NASA at the age of 11 and this sparked the interest and fascination. It really captivated Norah. There was no going back from there. Returning to Kennedy space center at the age of 15 only cemented the interest. Knowing this was the area to pursue, Norah started to figure out what subjects and areas to study on in School and then in University. Aeronautical Engineer was the choice as it aligned well.

Norah says that she was always very determined (she says her mother calls it stubborn). Once she realised traveling to space was the goal, she didn’t see any other path. Even if her Career Guidance teacher didn’t fully encourage it. She wasn’t for turning. Norah clearly says space has always been and always will be her thing!

Topics discussed include:
We talk about role models, specifically Eileen Collins.
Realising that her type of personality always wants to have many activities and challenges on the go at once.
Getting Experience with Boeing in Seattle and Bell Lads on an internship and learning so much during these placements.
Spending 6 weeks in NASA for a period building model rockets (literally rocket science).
Norah always kept fishing for opportunities to get into these program.
Networking during these programs which lead to great opportunities.
Getting a scholarship for a 9 week space studies program in 2009. During this program, Norah realised that there is no limit to what you can do.
It showed her so much about herself as well as the field she was working in. Dealing with pressures and stress. Coming out of there, realizing there is so much that can be done.
Working in a variety of roles over a couple of years which gave her exposure to other areas.
Giving into the niggle of creating something herself which lead a NanoRacks project with kids. She talks about Intrapreneurship here which was a great experience.
Getting accepted on the New Frontiers program funded by Enterprise Ireland – a new business course – which was an excellent learning and supporting programme.
Learning to pitch, meet investors and so much more.

Norah talks passionately talks about Planet Zebunar, her new product that she is launching very soon. Creating something commercial for kids that touches on the STEM subjects, Norah feels that it’s her chance to really make a difference. This sounds very exciting and it for kids (boys and girls) to engage them with STEM.

Q&A towards the end we discuss:
• Mars, Norah’s take on getting there and Elon Musk’s efforts
• Questions about Weightlessness & the ‘Vomit Commit’ with parabolic flight
• Inverted Scuba diving and how this can closely align to a space walking experience
• Future Goals – Project Possum – 5 day program to train as a scientist Astra nought for commercial space flights
• Commercial Flights to Space and progress on these with Virgin Galactic
• Work life Balance
• Approaches to Productivity and working on lists to keep on track
• Deciding on when a product is good enough v perfect with Planet Zebunar
• Decision Making and approaches used here – mix of intuition and experience
• Approaching fears and how the fear threshold moves the more you move it – stare it the face and pushing forward

If you’d like to connect with Norah, she can be contacted on any of the below:


Twitter @SpaceNorah


Norah’s Project launching in November – PlanetZebunar.com

More about Space Studies Program which was in Cork – http://ssp17.ie/

Thanks so much for listening. I’d be very pleased indeed if you told 5 of your friends 🙂

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