Astronaut and ecologist Piers Sellers was an undergraduate student in ecology at Edinburgh, graduating in 1976.
Before joining the NASA astronaut corps, Piers completed a PhD in biometeorology and worked on research into how the Earth’s biosphere and atmosphere interact.
His work involved computer modelling, satellite remote sensing studies and field work in places such as the USA, Russia, Canada and Brazil.
Mission scientist with NASA
Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in April 1996, Piers flew three Space Shuttle missions as mission scientist and in support of the International Space Station, in 2002, 2006 and 2010. He logged over 559 hours in space, including almost 41 EVA (extra-vehicular activity) hours in 6 spacewalks.
Piers had a hugely successful career as an astronaut, climate scientist and latterly as deputy director of NASA's sciences and exploration division, which influenced and inspired many people. His death from pancreatic cancer in December 2016, at the age of 61, was a sad loss to many at the University who had met and worked with him.
The University crest in space
Piers took a University of Edinburgh flag into space, which he presented to the University when he and his fellow crew members visited after his first space shuttle mission. This flag is now displayed at Old College.
On his second mission Piers carried a badge bearing the University crest. This badge is now sewn into a cap allegedly made from John Knox’s breeches; students who graduate from the University are tapped on the head with this cap by the Principal as they collect their degree.