National Indigenous Space Academy launches

Brandon How

A NASA internship for First Nations Australian university students has been launched with funding support from the Australian Space Agency.

The National Indigenous Space Academy (NISA) will enable five university students who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander to undertake a 10-week summer internship program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

This may include participating in work on robotics for the unexplored ocean worlds, robot perception control, artificial intelligence and path planning, and satellites.

Australian Space Agency head Enrico Palmero, Monash University Associate Dean (Indigenous) NISA lead Professor Christopher Lawrence, NASA Administrator US Senator Bill Nelson, NASA Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy and Joel Steele who completed the pilot program internship. Image: Monash University

NISA was announced on Tuesday to coincide with NASA Administrator US Senator Bill Nelson’s visit to Australia alongside other high ranking officials. As a part of the trip earlier this week, two Australian space consortiums were selected to supply a semi-autonomous Rover to the American-led Moon to Mars Mission.

Although the academy is being delivered by Monash University, students from any Australian universities are eligible and will be selected on merit.

Ahead of the internship, the successful students will undertake a ‘Space Boot Camp’ program at Monash University’s Faculty of IT to prepare. The students will be exposed to “aerodynamics, robotics, astrophysics, planetary science, engineering, computer and earth sciences as well as past and current space exploration missions at NASA,” according to the university.

A pilot program was established by Indigenous Professor Chris Lawrence was initially run through the University of Technology Sydney in 2019, which supported three students on NASA JPL internships. Professor Lawrence is overseeing the Academy and is currently Associate Dean Indigenous in the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash.

Professor Lawrence highlighted that “Indigenous Australians are the first scientists, engineers, technologists, mathematicians and doctors”.

“We share a vision with the Australian Space Agency to foster career development for First Nations people in the space sector with the ultimate goal to see the first ever Indigenous Australian astronaut,” Professor Lawrence said.

Earlier this month, the multi-stage consultation process on the federal government’s Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review began. Consultation for a refresh of the federal government’s national science priorities is also underway, with “elevating and investing in First Nations perspectives on science, technology and innovation” already suggested in the terms of reference.

Industry and Science minister Ed Husic said the government “is committed to creating opportunities for all young people, including First Nations Australians to have rewarding careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)”.

Indigenous Australians minister Linda Burney said “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have so much to offer the world of science and technology and I hope the students who take part in this program are inspired”.

NASA Administrator US Senator Bill Nelson said the “missions of tomorrow will be sparked by the accomplishments of today. As we usher in a new era of space exploration, our nations must continue eroding barriers that limit opportunities and instead support future explorers to reach their full potential.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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