NASA’s First Selected Astronaut From Down Under Has Passed

Written by: Gina Taranto

While some people are lucky enough to know exactly what career path they would like to walk on since the early stages of their lives, others need to carry quite a few battles to reach there. Phillip Chapman was one of the lucky ones. He was the first American astronaut born in Australia selected to work for NASA in 1967, at age 32. This position brought him very close to his childhood dream of one day exploring space on his own, floating in the white astronaut suit all kids his age were fantasizing about – even though he never actually made it to space.

Chapman passed on the 5th of April 2021 in Scottsdale, Arizona, almost five decades after he had resigned from his job at NASA. Let's find out more about what sparked his passion for space exploration and his life as a NASA astronaut.

Melbourne-Born Chapman and the “Seven Little Australians”philip chapman

Philip Kenyon Chapman was born on the 4th of March, 1935, in Melbourne, and his parents were Phyllis and Colin Robison Chapman. At the age of four, his father's job as a journalist forced the family to up and leave, reaching Sydney. They settled in Mosman, a cozy suburb located on the Lower North Shore of Sydney, in New South Wales. When he was eight, Philip befriended Ethel Turner, the author of a classic kids' book called Seven Little Australians. This encounter would forever shape Philip's personality and sparkle a burning passion for astronauts and space exploration in general. Ethel was the one that first introduced him to a series of SciFi classics, including Jules Verne or HG Wells, turning him into a “space nut”, as Philip himself used to call himself since he was 12 years old.

This peculiar way in which Chapman became utterly fascinated by space and found his calling in life through SciFi books is probably no different than that of someone who enjoys playing space-themed games at no deposit casinos and who might suddenly realize they would like to become an astronaut one day. If you find yourself constantly checking the latest NASA news or secretly wishing you would be selected to fly to space, what's stopping you from walking into Phillip's shoes? While there are certain basic NASA requirements that need to be checked off a list, such as having a bachelor's degree in physical science or engineering and having accumulated at least 1,000 hours flying a jet aircraft, in Phillip's case, something else probably made a difference: determination.

Philip Was Teased In School Because Of His Passion For Space

Phillip had it in him starting at an early age and it never left his body. This is why it is extremely important for today's children with a passion for space to have a strong support system at home that can help them express their dreams and interests and receive the encouragement they need.

Philip attended the Mosman Public School, and Parramatta High Schoo and was often times teased by his school colleagues about his passion for exploring space, particularly since he never tried to hide his dream of walking on the Moon one day. When he received the highest grade at the Leaving Certificate, he was rewarded with a book on request, and he asked for a copy of Interplanetary Flight by Arthur C C.

Studies and NASA Career Path 

  • While earning his bachelor’s degree in physics and Math at the University of Sydney, he also served with the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve and began to fly Tiger Moth aircrafts, which was one of the determining skills that helped him train to become an astronaut.
  • He landed a job as an electronics engineer after graduating from uni and joined the Mawson Station as part of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions in 1958. He was completely mesmerized by the Aurora Australis during a harsh, but formative experience. He was awarded the British Polar Medal in 1963 for his amazing work there.
  • He moved to Canada and began pursuing his career in the space sector, working for Canadian Aviation Electronics and the Experimental Astronomy Laboratory at MIT. He specialized in instrumentation and received the Master of Science in aeronautics and astronautics in 1964.
  • He completed his doctorate in physics and became an American citizen so he could apply for NASA’s recruitment round for scientist-astronauts.

Out of the 1100 applicants, he was one of the 11 scientist-astronauts to be selected in August 1967. Chapman was part of The Group Six that was supposed to take part in the Apollo Applications Program featuring ten landings on the Moon. Nonetheless, NASA had an impressive pool of astronauts to choose from, so the group fell behind and the following budget cutbacks drastically reduced the program.

Chapman left the group without ever making it into space and eventually became a mission scientist on Apollo 14 and 16. His remarkable contributions towards the development of the Galileo demonstration on Apollo 15 are undeniable. He resigned from NASA in the summer of 1972 and became an advocate for commercial space activity. He also created the Solar High Study Group, and wrote the Strike on the Ice novel that was published in 2017.