Hi Reddit, I’m Dr Meganne Christian. I’m a materials scientist, astronaut reserve with the ESA, and Exploration Commercialisation Lead at the UK Space Agency where I’m working to develop technology that will help us explore the harsh environments of outer space and live more efficiently here on Earth.

I’m currently visiting Australia and am borrowing my alma mater’s Reddit account this morning to chat with you all about my research, the astronaut reserve program, and all things space/science!

About me - I completed my PhD in industrial chemistry in 2014 and have since spent time living in Antarctica as a winter-over scientist at the Concordia Research Station leading various observatories including radiation, meteorology, stratospheric lidars, chemical and physical atmospheric aerosols and space weather.

Outside of my time in Antarctica, I’ve been working as a researcher at the National Research Council of Italy where I’ve been investigating how graphene coatings can be harnessed for thermal management in satellites. Part of my research has included two parabolic flights to test the function of graphene coatings in zero g.

Keen to answer all your questions about research, space and science!

Proof it’s me! https://imgur.com/a/JtxZaJp


UPDATE: That's all our time for today! Thank you for the great questions, it's been fantastic to chat!

If you'd like to keep up to date with my work and research I'm on Twitter and Instagram!

Comments: 181 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

Leb0ngjames36 karma

What’s your professional opinion on UAP’s?

unsw32 karma

I haven't had anything to do with UFOs in my career so it's hard to have a professional opinion but I would just note that there are so many different ways of having unidentified flying objects and they are most likely not aliens, they would probably be some something related to defence that the general public just can't know about!

Dr. Christian

Natrecks28 karma

What have you learned from space that will help us live better lives on Earth?

unsw46 karma

Basically, everything we do in Space is about making life better on Earth! There's the part that's all about the fundamental understanding of the Universe but there's also the part of technologies that are helping us here on Earth - so just from the Apollo era, in 10 years in US alone there were 30,000 commercial products and we still use many of these today.

Also the research we do on the International Space Station, a lot of it is about biomedical research - and the interesting thing about when you don't have gravity is that crystals grow larger because they don't collapse in on themselves and that means we can study pharmaceuticals and make material so there's really a lot that goes on that benefits of here on Earth.

Dr. Christian

Uzzy_4718 karma

What was your experience like in Antarctica!? What was it like living there, were there any interesting things you found out?

unsw40 karma

Antarctica was a life changing experience. I was there for a whole year and actually got to go back again a couple of months later, but that year was incredible, looking at the stars for example in such an isolated low-light pollution environment was incredible.

Every week I would have to go out to this instrument which was about a kilometre away from the base. I'd go out there with a colleague and we would take our headlamps off to let our eyes adjust to the conditions and we would just look up at the stars and you just had such a good vision of it.

We had 100 days of darkness, and if it was a moonless day you could actually see your shadow in the light of the Milky Way so that was an incredible experience. I'm not an astronomer but just being able to see that was amazing.

Then there was the experience of the tough physical conditions - we reached a temperature and wind chill of -104 degrees Celsius which is not something I ever expected to experience in my life, also the low humidity – Antarctica is actually a desert so that meant that it was extremely low humidity which is pretty tough on the body and the fact that you don't see the sun for 100 days really plays havoc on your sleep.

Concordia station is at an altitude of 3233m above sea level but at the poles, the air is thinner and so it's more like being about 4000m. That meant any activity was quite difficult and it also meant that I felt like a bit of a superhero because I had, you know, these lungs that had expanded to be able to deal with that! Unfortunately that only lasts about a month but that was great.

So overall it was a fantastic experience with my colleagues. Yes, it was difficult at times but we really became a family.

Dr. Christian

Pongpianskul18 karma

If you were given the job of selecting 3 people to accompany you on a "first contact" meeting with aliens, who would you pick?

unsw43 karma

I would definitely go with Jean-Luc Picard - he's had a lot of experience with first contact and he's one of my favourite Star Trek captains.

I would probably take my husband because it's always great to go with somebody you love and I would also take Tim Minchin who's my favourite comedian and I think would be great value!

Dr. Christian

TopFloorApartment4 karma

Jean-Luc Picard*

unsw2 karma

Oops - have fixed that up cheers!

projectvko16 karma

What is your favorite sci-fi story? Have you read Dune?

unsw58 karma

I have read Dune and I also love the film but my favourite sci-fi story is Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir!

Dr. Christian

Professor-Oak-15 karma


unsw24 karma

17 of us were selected – there are 5 career astronauts, 11 reserve astronauts and a parastronaut, and that's because the model of European Space Agency is a little bit different to NASA's model. So NASA selects a lot of people and may select them frequently and everybody they select then goes through training but a lot of them actually never fly to space.

So the European Space Agency wants to keep up it's record of everybody who trains then gets a mission. At the moment they have 5 missions available so there are 5 people doing their training to become career astronauts and the rest of us are reserves but that doesn't mean that we will never fly.

So actually the first person from my class to fly will be a member of the reserve, that's the Swedish Reserve astronaut Marcus Wandt, he's going to be flying around January next year, so he got a call one day and they said next week you have to be in Houston for training so most likely we have special projects like these.

Other options are for if the European Space Agency and its member states decide to expand the astronaut corps because they have more missions then we can go in that way or if for some reason there are ones career astronauts can't continue.

Dr. Christian

lordtaste12 karma

Right, I'll be that guy.

Aliens, yay or nay?

unsw19 karma

Yay! I definitely think there are aliens out there, I think the chance of us actually encountering them is pretty low because well the universe is really spread apart and we don't have any way of travelling fast enough at the moment.

I also think that any other life forms in the universe are going to be completely different to what we might expect.

Dr. Christian

Livid_Nectarine636011 karma

What exactly do you do as an exploration commercialisation lead?

unsw17 karma

So I started in this role at the beginning of July - it's very very new but the idea at the moment is to think about the future of human space-exploration because after 2030 the International Space Station is going to be decommissioned.

It has been around since the year 2000. It was initially only meant to be in use for 15 years so it has already outlived its lifetime and the amount of maintenance required is increasing, so at a certain point it will have to be decommissioned.

The idea at the moment is that Axiom station is going to be built attached to the International Space Station and then break off, perhaps using parts from the ISS.

So what I'm working on is a kind of strategy for the UK in particular for how we want to go forward with doing research in Space once we don't have the ISS.

Dr. Christian

HiThisIsMichael9 karma

What’s your favorite fun fact about space?

unsw27 karma

That we have had a constant human presence in Space since the year 2000 :)

Dr. Christian

goldenspear7 karma

What inspired you to get into your field? Do you like your job? Do you ever wanna quit and do something else?

unsw9 karma

I do love my job! I'm going to answer this from slightly in the past because two months ago I did leave my research job and started something completely new and yes, I was enjoying the research - I did it for many years but I was ready for something new and I don't think that's a bad thing, I think it's quite ok to want to try something new.

I wanted to get more into the space sector and so I spoke with the UK space agency and they identified a gap in their team which is this Exploration Commercialisation Lead role.

I'm really happy to be on this completely new learning curve - as that's one of the things I wanted to get out of being an astronaut, so I'm very happy that I've changed careers!

Dr. Christian

StygaiAsshai5 karma

Hi Dr. Christian.

What are the fuels that most of the world uses to launch rockets?

Do we have safer, more efficient alternatives or mixtures in the works or is that down to engine technology?

Also, what is your take on the green hydrogen economy?

unsw5 karma

I'm no expert on propulsion and there are a lot of fuels being invented out there!

I think hydrogen as a fuel is really exciting and if you are producing the hydrogen in a green way then you're going to have low emissions.

I actually did my PhD around the hydrogen economy and I think it's definitely part of our future!

Dr. Christian

Thief394 karma

Firstly, thank you for doing this. We always need more scientists doing AMAs

Can you expand a little more on your schooling and the path/challenges you took to get here? I took some introductory chemistry, and bio chemistry. I'm going into Enviro-Science/Biology but would love to hear your thoughts.

unsw3 karma

When I was at school I kind of changed my mind every day about what I wanted to do. For a while I wanted to be an actor or artist or an architect and I think overtime I kind of directed myself towards science because I liked problem-solving and maths was my favourite subject.

For the HSC I did a range of subjects - extension one English, extension 2 math, chemistry, French and Japanese, that was quite a mix and it kind of left my options open.Back in 2004, when I graduated from high school - I still had this kind of innate bias that girls don't do engineering, but when I started doing engineering and I was like "Yes this is amazing, this is me."

So I lost that unconscious bias, which is fantastic and I really hope that these days there is much less of that bias but I'm aware that it's something that we have to continue to work towards.

Since then I've focused on material science which has been really, really enjoyable, but I like that I've had the opportunity to do other things as well, to learn about a lot of other things.

I think it's important to have an open mind and want to learn about other things and have that curiosity because science is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and we need people from different perspectives to be able to solve the world's greatest challenges.

Dr. Christian

unoriginal_quote4 karma

If you could pick one band to greet the first aliens that arrive on earth, who would it be?

unsw13 karma

Definitely Queen! and I think Dr. Brian May would be very happy with that because he's an astrophysicist!

Dr. Christian

AvgCHUNGUS4 karma

What is your dream space mission?

unsw6 karma

My dream at the moment is to go to the International Space Station because I have done so much research about what happens there in these past few years that it kind of feels like it's just waiting for me.

Of course, I dream about going to the moon too and that's not impossible because the European Space Agency is a partner on the Artemis missions to the moon. So who knows, maybe one day I will get to go!!

Dr. Christian

jay227ify4 karma

I've always wanted to ask this question to an astronaut, because the answer might be different for each individual.

How do you deal with being in the same environment for months on end without any negative effects? What kind of psychological training would you do for something like that? And how do you deal with any stressors and anxiety when locked in a room for long periods of time while trying to finish work? What gets you through the day?

unsw11 karma

So I haven't yet been on a space mission but I have spent a long time isolated in Antarctica - there was a crew of just 13 of us for 9 months so if something had happened, if there was some disaster, we would have had to deal with that ourselves because nobody could come in and rescue us.

The fact that you just can't get out does weigh heavily on you psychologically, but what I did to stay motivated was just think about the privileged situation I was in and the fact that it was so unique.

Sometimes I would think about the work that I was doing and how that was important research into climate change, other times I would think about how there are many people who would like to be in this situation but just haven't had the opportunity, so I should make the most of it…

I think the really important thing is to have friends amongst the crew. It's great to talk about it with people who are in other places but they haven't lived that experience so it's important to have friends on the crew that can talk through those experiences with you.

In terms of psychological training, we actually did have psychological support that started before we went to Antarctica. Even during the selection process we would have a lot of discussions about what we thought it was going to be like, about what we thought were our own strengths and weaknesses so that we could then use that while in Antarctica - we also had that psychological support continue while we were there.

Dr. Christian

InkFoxPrints3 karma

Hello Doctor!

What's the difference between training if you're an astronaut versus a reserve?


unsw3 karma

The main difference is timing - the career astronauts have already started their training while the rest of us will start training when we are assigned a mission and depending on that mission the training might be shorter.
An astronaut would definitely go through at least a year of basic training and then probably another couple of years of specific training but if a reserve astronaut has a special project, it might be only 6 to 12 months of training because it's a much shorter term thing - they don't have to know quite as much about all the systems so they can condense the training for much shorter period.

Dr. Christian

Natrecks3 karma

How did you get to where you are today? Becoming an astronaut seems so unreachable, was it really tough?

unsw9 karma

I've had a bit of a twisting career path. I did a PhD in engineering but at the time I certainly wasn't trying to become an astronaut.

After that, I did Research and Materials Science at the National Research Council of Italy and while I was there I had the opportunity to do some interesting space-related projects and I also got the chance to spend a year in Antarctica.

It was really my time in Antarctica that made me realise that there were skills I thought I had that I didn't actually have - that built my confidence and taught me a lot of technical skills as well as human relationship skills that are really helpful and it was perfect timing because that was around the time that there were the first rumours that the European Space Agency was going to open application for astronauts for the first time in 13 year.

In a way it was a little bit opportunistic, I wasn't building my career around becoming an astronaut but I was just having these really great experiences that then helped me to build the skills necessary in the end.

Dr. Christian

timberwolf01221 karma

What are the plans to commercialize space? Are you focusing on helium 3 from the moon, orbital solar energy being used to beam power back to earth or power a massive space laser to propel craft, asteroid mining or something else im not thinking about?

unsw6 karma

The first big projects in terms of commercialisation will be in lower orbit - I think in the next 5-10 years we're going to see factories orbiting the Earth. These factories will be manufacturing pharmaceuticals or manufacturing new materials.

As you mentioned, space-based solar power is something that is being looked into at the moment and I think it's a really interesting opportunity, but it has a lot of technological challenges, so I think we're not close enough for commercialisation yet - on the pharma side of things, we’re a lot closer

I think asteroid mining will become a thing, but you have to think about what the business plan is in terms of how much it will cost to get to orbit and beyond.

Dr. Christian

Not_Really_Here11 karma

Hello Dr!

Its long been mine and many others dream to one day visit space. Do you have any personal guess on when would be relatively achievable? I.e. space tourism not just for billionaires

unsw6 karma

The price of taking mass to space, especially for cargo at the moment is going down and I think that eventually, the price of getting humans to space will come down in the same way so I would say probably at least 5 to 10 years.

Having said that, there are already suborbital flights that cost less than a million dollars so that's something!

Dr. Christian

doggingChenille5750 karma


unsw2 karma

I have definitely bumped into walls in the past but I've never thought to pass it off as a dance move so I will do that in the future!

Dr. Christian

Bigbird_Elephant-1 karma

Do aliens resemble humans?

unsw3 karma

I suspect they don't. Fully depends on where they are in the universe because things could have developed completely differently from how they developed here on Earth.

I encourage you to read the book I was talking about before, Project Hail Mary, because Andy Weir has some good ideas about how aliens might look.

Dr. Christian