TU Dublin Student Kevin McGrath explores “space” on his Erasmus+ Traineeship

Gerry O'Sullivan

Posted: 28 September, 2021

Kevin McGrath and an erupting Mt Etna, Sicily in the background

21 year Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) student Kevin McGrath can thank the Erasmus+ Programme for providing him with an “unbelievable” traineeship.  A Third Year Physics student, Kevin secured a position at the European Space Agency (ESA) in Leiden, The Netherlands.  I have been interested in space my whole life and to get to work with such an organisation is I believe a life changing experience.”  Together with three other students from TU Dublin, Kevin got to sample life in space at a manned space mission simulation centre – Analog Astronaut Training Center – in Southern Poland.

Kevin explains “We were essentially locked away in a simulated space habitat where we lived the lives of astronauts as if they were to land on either the Moon or Mars. I was luckily given the title of Acting Commander of the crew from which I learnt a lot about managing people.  While going about our working day we also took part in a time perception experiment where we had no time refence such as sun light or clocks. We spent the week not knowing what time of the day it was outside the habitat. Getting to run so many space orientated experiments that will hopefully some day benefit the colonisation of the Moon or Mars was a great experience.”   


His journey to “space” started when a staff member at TU Dublin told him about the ESA opportunity.  I was of course delighted with the possibility and made it my goal for the following semester to be a top candidate. I soon got to make great connections within the industry.  I have spent years following their social media accounts and keeping up to date with all the advancements made within the industry, so getting to be a part of that was unbelievable.” 

Below – Kevin (on left) helps crew member Gary Brady, another member of TU Dublin Physics Technology, during the EMMPOL IV mission.

Getting to live away from his South Dublin home for the first time was also a big attraction for Kevin.

“The placement was based in Leiden in the Netherlands which is a student city about a 40-minute train trip from Amsterdam and only 12 minutes by train from the Hague.  I have lived at home my whole life and getting to experience the independence was truly exciting. Luckily, I got to go over with three other Irish students from the Physics Department of TU Dublin. I soon adapted to my new home and made friends from all over the world.” A talented hurler with Ballyboden St. Endas he kept his touch intact by joining the local GAA club in The Hague where he “met loads of Irish living away from home just like myself.” 

“Over the next six months I took part in online and in-person workshops, Analog Astronaut campaigns and scientific research in four different countries. This was also done in a time when unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most people didn’t have the opportunity to travel.  Another highlight of my traineeship was the scouting campaign on Mt. Etna Volcano in Sicily, Italy.  

After my time in Poland, my mentor Prof. Bernard Foing who made everything possible, gave us another great opportunity.  Next stop was Mt. Etna volcano in Sicily.  We worked in conjunction with the German Aerospace Centre’s (DLR) ARCHES campaign. We joined the DLR team for five days running moon landing simulations. This gave us the chance to learn the ins and outs of moon landings from some of the best in the industry. We lived at 1900 metres on the side of an active volcano which was a definite first for me.  I spent each night with my mentor, an ESA professor, showing us all there is to see in the clear night sky. With access to a telescope, we could see both Saturn and Jupiter with our own eyes and also getting a slight glimpse of the Milky Way. On 8 July, I got to witness first-hand the eruption of Mt. Etna’s South-East crater. This was a bucket list item that I will never forget. From my back garden I witnessed for several hours, lava being spewed into the air, to roughly a height of 500 – 600 metres.

I experienced so much over the six months on my placement that I will never forget. The experiences both professionally and otherwise have changed my outlook on how I want to further my career. I have many to thank within the TU Dublin staff, EuroMoonMars Community and the Erasmus+ organisation for assisting my placement.”

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