Rising up, Paul Scully-Energy did not wish to be an astronaut. It simply type of occurred.

He spent his youth browsing Sydney’s immaculate seashores, a ardour that will see him turn out to be the primary head of the Australian Navy’s oceanography division. Within the 1970s he efficiently utilized to be an investigator at NASA after which used the area company‘s infrared satellite tv for pc information to survey the ocean.

Recognizing his distinctive experience, NASA tapped him to hitch the 13th flight of the area shuttle program, mission STS-41G.

After months of flight coaching, Scully-Energy was strapped right into a seat within the crew module of the Challenger area shuttle at Kennedy Area Heart, Florida, as a payload specialist. It was Oct. 5, 1984.

Wires and tubes linked the seven-person crew to communications and very important oxygen. In depth checks have been accomplished with mission management.

Upon launch, Scully-Energy, then 41 years outdated, would set quite a few data. He would turn out to be the primary Australian-born particular person to go away Earth. He would turn out to be the primary oceanographer in area. And with a face filled with brown-white hair, he’d be the primary particular person in area with a beard.

He’d additionally go on to assist Australia construct its personal area company, develop life-saving drone expertise for Australian seashores and set out a plan to search out the misplaced metropolis of Atlantis.

However 34 years in the past, as he lay horizontal to the bottom within the middeck of the Challenger, ready for launch, Scully-Energy wasn’t fascinated by any of that.

He was asleep.

NASA's Challenger space shuttle lifts off on mission STS-41G.

The area shuttle Challenger, on mission STS-41G, blazes a path by means of the sky on its ascent to low Earth orbit.


Journey to area

At 74, Scully-Energy, in a easy button-up shirt and navy blue blazer, seems extra grizzled than the 41-year-old who flew on the Challenger, however he exhibits no indicators of slowing down.

He is sitting throughout from me in a small recording studio in Sydney nonetheless sporting the identical record-setting beard, now silvery and skinny, and cupping a scorching espresso. He speaks buoyantly, however matter of factly, about his time in area, with solely the subtlest trace of nostalgia. When he tells me he was asleep earlier than the Challenger’s launch, I guffaw in astonishment.

At probably a very powerful level in his life, Scully-Energy was snoozing.

“You have to be relaxed,” he smiles.


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However forward of the launch, there was an enormous hurdle: Scully-Energy’s beard.

“NASA mentioned to shave it off,” he remembers. The beard was a security concern, NASA argued, making it tough to attain an hermetic seal with the helmet. The company threw a battery of “unattainable assessments” at him, however Scully-Energy, the payload specialist {and professional} diver, confirmed NASA he may create the seal, no downside. The company relented and he was cleared to fly, beard intact.

The superstitious have been rattled by STS-41G. It was the 13th flight of the area shuttle program, and the crew picture was taken on Friday the 13th. However regardless of the portentous omens looming over the mission, Scully-Energy had nice religion that issues “can be fantastic.”

Astronaut Paul Scully-Power

Paul Scully-Energy dons his helmet, beard and all.


His lack of worry was born partly from NASA’s rigorous flight coaching, which noticed him embedded with the crew, up at three a.m. and fascinating in flight simulations over a matter of months. By the point he acquired to the true factor, he describes it as a way of “Gosh, I’ve acquired to do that yet another time?”

For eight days and throughout 132 orbits of the Earth, it was Scully-Energy’s job to examine the oceans. In the course of the mission he found that eddies, swirling lots of ocean water, have been pretty ubiquitous throughout the globe.

On the final day of the Challenger’s mission, Oct. 13, he woke as much as the sound of Elton John’s Rocket Man and readied for atmospheric re-entry. Coming again to Earth was “pretty benign,” he says, although the craft was touring at 25 instances the pace of sound and the cockpit glowed orange. It landed at Kennedy Area Heart not lengthy after noon.

Paul Scully-Energy by no means wished to be an astronaut, however he’d simply turn out to be one.


The NASA coaching, nearly as good as it’s, the one factor they can’t prepare you for is the view.”

For these of us certain to Earth, area is a flat, black canvas dotted with pinpricks of white gentle we will solely glimpse when the solar units. Our understanding of the cosmos has improved exponentially within the final century, however there’s a lot we won’t see — or grasp.

For the courageous ones who enterprise past the planet’s gravitational pull, area turns into all-consuming. An obsidian tide that washes over all the things. Our bodies, spacecraft, satellites, moons, planets, stars. A cognitive realignment takes place. I can hear it in Scully-Energy’s voice when he talks about seeing the planet from low Earth orbit.

“Something anybody down right here on Earth has seen of area is two-dimensional movie photographs,” he tells me. “The view with the human mind and two eyes is totally three-dimensional and that adjustments completely all the things.”

This concept that seeing Earth from area can alter your psyche is called the “overview impact.” Astronauts who look again upon the planet have reported being overwhelmed with “bliss, timelessness” and a “profound sense of connectedness.” When Scully-Energy appeared out of the Challenger’s window and noticed the curvature of Earth floating in opposition to the nothingness of area, that connectedness — the connectedness of humanity — turned obvious. The borders used to delineate nations on an atlas or on a classroom wall ceased to exist.   

“You have a look at [the Earth] and also you say: My God, the entire of human endeavor, I am taking a look at it and a lot of the wars have been about boundaries and I can not even see them.”

Space shuttle Challenger in orbit.

The area shuttle Challengerfloats the wrong way up over the Earth.


It is a perspective that solely a fortunate few will ever share. That assortment of cosmic vacationers so far numbers lower than 600.  

I’ve usually questioned what it may be prefer to really feel weightless, floating by means of area, trying again on the planet hanging in opposition to the infinite darkish like a blue-green bauble. I’ve gazed up on the stars at evening and tried to think about what it should really feel prefer to float by means of the silent vacuum of area.

However maybe I am trying within the unsuitable route.

“For years we have been speaking about area up there,” provides Scully-Energy sagely, glancing upward.

“I am now speaking about area down right here.”

Area 2.0

The area sector has dramatically modified for the reason that manned shuttle missions Scully-Energy flew on 30 years in the past. Present area applied sciences and infrastructure have allowed enterprising sorts — billionaires named Musk and Bezos and entrepreneurial startups — to start the commercialization of area.

“Area in the present day is Area 2.0,” says Scully-Energy.

The idea has seen Scully-Energy’s residence nation, Australia, create its personal area company after a government-led evaluate revealed a rising must help the nation’s area capabilities. The company formally opened its doorways on July 1, 2018, and can spend AU$41 million (US$30 million) on area actions over the subsequent 4 years. That will sound like rather a lot, nevertheless it pales compared to NASA’s 2018 finances of almost $21 billion.

That sort of funding means Australia’s company is concentrated on constructing sturdy business ties, utilizing Australian-developed expertise for shared missions to area with nations such because the UK, Canada and France and persevering with analysis into the sector. Scully-Energy, as certainly one of solely two Australians to move to area, was excited by the information and took on a job as a state ambassador for the company. He performs a important function in informing Australia’s federal authorities on how the nation can take full benefit of Area 2.0.

“We’re not speaking about placing people in area anymore,” says Scully-Energy. “We’re speaking about utilizing area as an enabler in lots of, many industries.”  

The hot button is information.

“Inside 5 years, we’ll have tens of 1000’s of nanosatellites — very small satellites — in orbit … and they are going to revolutionize the world.”

Nanosatellites, weighing roughly 10 kilograms and measuring lower than 12 inches, will “envelop the Earth,” giving industries entry to mountains of information. Scully-Energy describes them as “smartphones in area”. His instance: Within the close to future farmers will have the ability to use nanosatellites to research their farms, maximizing crop yields and streamlining routine actions akin to herding animals or planting seeds.

He hopes the brand new company may even encourage the subsequent era of spacefarers, create jobs and enhance industries on the bottom. Australia homes one of many world’s most superior radio astronomy amenities, has seen startups launch their very own satellites and attracted the eyes of area business companions akin to Boeing, which tapped a Melbourne-based video video games studio to assist prepare astronauts in digital actuality.

Thus, Scully-Energy believes, the nation is in a singular place to export its space-based providers and merchandise worldwide by means of sturdy business ties and world-class experience.

View of the Himalayas from space

A view of the Himalayas, taken aboard the Challenger throughout mission STS-41G.


To Atlantis and past

In an interview with the Weekend Australian in 2016, Scully-Energy famous certainly one of his extra uncommon ambitions: looking for the misplaced metropolis of Atlantis.

The existence of Atlantis, the Platonic historical island nation supposedly swallowed up by the ocean, is taken into account by most students and historians to be unlikely. The underwater utopia is normally surmised to be a nation of grand wealth and extra, and its sudden disappearance has captivated inquisitive minds for lots of of years.

All method of hypotheses have been urged as to its location — submerged islands within the Strait of Gibraltar, off the Irish coast and even someplace beneath Antarctica. However no stable proof has been found of Atlantis ever having existed, which solely serves to make the thriller all of the extra alluring.

For Scully-Energy, there is a sure romance to discovering the misplaced metropolis.

“Do not you assume the world’s first oceanographer in area ought to go and discover the misplaced metropolis of Atlantis?” he provides.

Whether it is actual, Scully-Energy believes we now have the potential to search out it. He means that advances in nanosatellite monitoring, underwater drones and “a little bit of sensible educational work” is what’s required to lastly clear up the thriller. 

Past his seek for legendary cities, Scully-Energy’s present actions contain his ambassadorship and additional growth of the Little Ripper, a lifesaving drone that may deploy a flotation machine. It is supposed for search and rescue missions throughout Australia’s 37,000 miles of shoreline. Earlier this yr, the drone saved two males from highly effective surf situations at Lennox Head in jap Australia.

The drone builders want to make enhancements that permit the Little Ripper to work longer and extra effectively — however in addition they wish to make it smarter.

“Now we have developed synthetic intelligence to search out sharks, and we’re creating AI to truly inform us when persons are in hassle, robotically,” Scully-Energy says.

The shark-finding expertise, developed along with the College of Sydney, just lately took a nationwide award for synthetic intelligence innovation of the yr. And the drone’s purposes are more likely to prolong additional inland, too, with the staff partnering with a growth firm in Sydney’s northwest to allow it to ship medical provides and first assist.

Juggling all of his tasks may very well be an unenviable process, however Scully-Energy appears used to it.

He has received the world’s most prestigious awards in oceanography, underwater acoustics and aviation, uncovered vital ocean phenomena and helped develop life-saving drone tech in a profession spanning 5 a long time. To at the present time, he has no thought the place he’ll find yourself tomorrow. He would not have it every other means. He has a fearlessness. The identical fearlessness that allowed him to go to sleep on the launch pad at Kennedy Area Heart greater than three a long time in the past.

However wherever he’s tomorrow — creating drones, serving to construct an area company, looking for Atlantis — Scully-Energy’s eyes might be vast open.

Need to know extra? Oceans to Orbit: The Story of Australia’s First Man in Area, by Colin Burgess, is a superb have a look at Scully-Energy’s life and the STS-41G mission.

CNET’s Vacation Present Information: The place to search out one of the best tech items for 2018.

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