THE ADMINISTRATOR OF NASA, Charles Bolden, was in Australia this week, flying the flag and interacting with students at a number of venues across the east coast.
Mr Bolden, a former astronaut (with four shuttle flights) and a former Major-General in the US Marines, became NASA Administrator in 2009. He came into the job at a challenging time, as the global financial crisis was underway and with science budgets under intense pressure.
At a lecture at the Great Hall at the University of Sydney, Mr Bolden spoke of the work NASA does in space and here on Earth, and encouraged students in the audience to work hard and follow their dreams.
He praised the work done by the staff at the tracking station at Tidbinbilla near Canberra. Known as the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, it is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, paid for the by the USA but staffed by Australians and managed by the CSIRO.
“Canberra is playing a critical role in tracking the Mars Science Laboratory that we’re going to be landing on Mars on August 6,” Mr Bolden said. “We’re really excited about everything they do.”
At the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Mr Bolden spent time with students and teachers involved in the Pathways to Space programme. Pathways to Space gives students a chance to learn more about science and technology by taking a “hands-on” approach, including operating rovers in a simulated Mars environment called the Mars Yard. They also get to work with professional scientists and engineers involved in space research.
Pathways to Space is a collaboration between the Powerhouse, the Federal Government, the University of Sydney, the University of NSW, and CISCO Systems.
Taking the controls of one of the rovers, Mr Bolden spoke about the importance of encouraging students to put their ambitions into action and to think big … making the point that today’s students will be tomorrow’s explorers of Mars.
Your editor had a brief moment to speak with Mr Bolden, and we discussed the rarity of having a NASA Administrator visit Australia.
“I’m told there was only one previous occasion, way back in 1973, when Administrator Fletcher visited Australia as part of dealings to help set up the Deep Space Network here,” Mr Bolden said. “Let’s hope it won’t be another 30 years before another Administrator gets the chance to visit.”
Story and images by Jonathan Nally. Bolden portrait image courtesy NASA.
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