Limerickmen aim to launch into space

FIFTY-TWO years after the first man launched in to space, two Limerick men are hoping to boldly go where few have gone before.

FIFTY-TWO years after the first man launched in to space, two Limerick men are hoping to boldly go where few have gone before.

Oola native Brian Stokes, 28, and Charlie O’Neill, 45, from Patrickswell, are hoping to reach dizzying heights if the public vote for them to go in to space.

Both men, along with a UL researcher in aviation, are among hundreds in this country competing to be selected to go through to the global space camp in Orlando, Florida if they win the Irish vote.

The competition is being run by the deodorant company Lynx and it is giving 22 people from across the globe a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Earth from space, where they will experience weightlessness from 103 km above.

The winners of national votes around the world will be sent to the global space camp after rigorous tests and only the best will win a place.

Among the rising number of Irish competitors is local man Charlie O’ Neill, who said this has been a “lifetime dream” of his and something he never thought he’d achieve.

Charlie, who runs a business called Heating Engineer Supplies, has two daughters - Alannah, aged six and Annie, aged three. Now he has the chance to follow in the footsteps of his idols.

“I won’t win unless I get the support of Limerick people and get them voting. How cool would it be if Limerick could have one of its own do this,” he said.

County Limerickman Brian Stokes, 28, who is currently studying economics and history in University College Cork, is also hoping to follow in the footsteps of Buzz Aldrin.

The immortal phrase ‘Space, the final frontier..’ has always given him goosebumps, and when he saw the advert from Lynx on TV recently he jumped at the chance.

“I’ve always wanted to go into space. I will live a disappointed life if I don’t,” he said.

Brian joked it would also be the best story ever to regale in the pub. “I’d be sorted for the next 40 years,” he laughed.

Writing on his blog, he wrote: “I’ve entered, my chances are slim, the odds are against me but it’s only a bit of fun..just how I would imagine any good trip starts.”

“As a lifelong wannabe astronaut I need your help. Sure, you don’t know me and I can’t pay you back, but I am asking for it, so I hope you can give it.”

Brian, who contested the 2009 local elections, has spent years working in politics, in the European Parliament, and in the Department of Foreign Affairs in Irish Aid as an advisor to former Minister of State Peter Power.

Meanwhile, a University of Limerick engineer could become the first Irishwoman to reach space if she receives enough public votes.

Dr Norah Patten, 29, a researcher on a European Space Agency project at UL, visiting NASA at the age of 11 and her life has been focused on aviation ever since.

She too said if she won it would be the “realisation of a childhood dream”.

“To think that I can actually apply for something like this is amazing. The whole space world has changed so much in the last couple of years. It’s such an exciting time to be involved in this area. I’d be delighted to have this chance. It’s hard to describe what it would be like, because I’ve been so passionate about space for such a long time, “ Dr Patten said.

Based in UL for the past 11 years, where she undertook her undergraduate and postgraduate studies in aeronautical engineering, she is also the chair of the space management and business department at the International Space University.

She recently travelled to the Kennedy Space Center on a nine-week Space Studies Programme run by the International Space University and hosted at NASA and the Florida Institute of Technology.

The voting remains open until April 30. Some 125 people from Ireland and the UK will then be tested academically and physically during a two-day live event, with only four selected to go through to the global space camp.

A panel of space experts will then select those contestants worthy of a trip to space.

The first human in space was Soviet Yuri Gagarin, who was launched on April 12, 1961 aboard Vostok 1 and orbited the Earth for 108 minutes. The first woman in space was Soviet Valentina Tereshkova, who launched on June 16, 1963 aboard Vostok 6 and orbited Earth for almost three days.