Miss England 'flies' Boeing Starliner spaceship at NASA's Kennedy Space Center

a woman wearing a sash that says 'miss england' sits inside a spaceship looking up at buttons smiling
Jessica Gagan, who is the 2023 Miss England and an aerospace engineer, at the controls of a Boeing Starliner simulator. Gagan was on a tour of the U.S. in October and November 2023 to promote space and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives. (Image credit: Boeing)

Miss England took the controls of Boeing's new astronaut spaceship, simulator-style.

Jessica Gagan, crowned Miss England earlier this year, stopped by the Boeing-made Starliner simulator at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Boeing officials posted to X (formerly Twitter). Starliner is aiming to bring an astronaut crew on a test mission to the International Space Station (ISS) no earlier than April 2024 following several years of engineering delays.

The tweet included a shout-out to NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who will pilot the Boeing Crew Flight Test of Starliner in 2024 alongside NASA commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore. "We think you might have a new trainee," the post added, addressed to Williams

Gagen, 27, graduated with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Liverpool this past summer, according to the Miss England website. She will pursue her master's degree after her Miss England obligations conclude. (Miss England is a beauty pageant, but the winner often chooses to work with charities or students to promote goodwill initiatives.)

Related: Here's 7 things the International Space Station taught us 

Prior to visiting the Boeing Starliner simulator, Gagen was invited to speak at the Ascend conference in Las Vegas — which ran Oct. 23 to 25 — about how to use the ISS to get students inspired to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Her visit with Boeing in Orlando will include working with the social media team "to create content aimed to market how STEM subjects are involved in the aerospace industry," the Miss England website added. Other activities on her agenda include a tour of Boeing's facilities, a panel discussion with Redwire Space, and possibly witnessing the SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the ISS slated to lift off at KSC on Nov. 7.

"This trip is everything an aerospace engineer could have ever dreamed of," Gagen stated on the same website. "Having been one of only a handful of girls studying aerospace engineering at my university, I made it my mission to promote how exciting the sector is and diminish stereotypes surrounding what engineers do — and look like, which subsequently saw me scouted for Miss England. The rest is history."

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft has made two uncrewed test flights in 2019 and 2022. The first flight failed to reach the ISS as planned due to numerous reasons, but the 2022 effort made it there and back to Earth. Once Starliner is certified to carry operational crews, it will be the second option NASA has to send aloft astronauts under the agency's Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX, the other company, has been running astronaut crews up to the ISS since 2020.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace