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From Shropshire to deep space: Vicki's career really is rocket science

Telford | News | Published:

Vicki Lonnon's official role with the European Space Agency is that of quality assurance engineer – but she says that her main job is to be a "nagging voice".

Lift-off of VEGA VV01 on its maiden flight in 2012

Vicki has left her native Shropshire to work in French Guiana, preparing a spacecraft for launch.

The engineer, who was born in Shrewsbury, works for Airbus Defence and Space Ltd, and is currently readying the Lisa Pathfinder mission for launch.

  • The mission is to test the concept of gravitational waves, predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity
  • Scientists say it will pave the way to a completely different method of observing the Universe
  • It may explain the nature of black holes and their mergers
  • Its final operational orbit will be halo orbit, 1.5 million km from Earth
  • Pathfinder’s operational phase will last six months, but could extend to one year

Lisa, which stands for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, is scheduled to launch in the early hours of December 2 from Kourou in French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America. It will be carried into space on a Vega rocket.

Vicki is a quality assurance engineer on the project. Her task is to ensure the spacecraft is in good health and to monitor activity in all the clean rooms prior to launch.

She said: "Basically I am the conscience of the mission, the nagging voice that makes sure everything is okay.

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"We make sure that the project can deliver what has been promised and that it is safe; we do this by checking things again and again.

"I love this job, it has a wide remit, a lot of responsibility and it also gives me a great overview of the whole project."

The Lisa Pathfinder project is to prove technology for a future mission, paving the way for a completely different method of observing the universe, by detecting gravitational waves.

This will allow astrophysicists to address some of the most fundamental questions about the Universe – and possibly raise new ones, such as the nature of binary black holes and their mergers, which are among the most powerful events in the Universe.

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It is certainly all a brave new world for Vicki, 31, who moved from Shrewsbury to Priorslee when she was three and attended Priorslee Primary School – now Priorslee Academy.

From there she went to Idsall School in Shifnal, New College Sixth Form and Surrey University, where she obtained a BSc (Hons) in Physics and Space Technology.

Vicki, who now lives in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, with husband Keith, said that she had always had an interest in science.

She said: "Mom would keep me quiet by giving me a book on the solar system to read, but while I always liked science, I never thought of space as anything more than an interest.

"I did a week's work experience at a solicitors and knew that wasn't for me, then a physics teacher handed me a leaflet which said 'Rocket Scientists Required', which was from Surrey University and it really made me think.

"I knew I wanted to something practical with science, not just academic, and eventually that led me to study the degree at Surrey."

Vicki is a strong advocate of the exploration of space

Vicki said that she is a strong advocate of mankind's continued exploration of space, despite the huge expense involved. She added: "If people ask me why we continue to go into space, I say if it wasn't for space exploration you wouldn't be watching TV programmes from around the world or enjoying the benefits of life-saving technology like GPS.

"But space exploration can give us so much more than that.

"Mankind is searching for the answers to the universe and all the answers are out there, we just have to find them."

You can follow the Lisa Pathfinder mission via Vicki's blog at www.next-stop-space.blogspot.co.uk

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