NASA head visits Australia

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who visited Australia this week.

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.

The Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum

The Mars Yard, a simulated Mars environment, at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. This photo doesn't do it justice – it's a very slick working environment where students interact with science and technology professionals.

The Mars Yard at the Powerhouse Museum

Another view of the Mars Yard.

A remote-controlled Mars Yard rover

A remote-controlled rover in the Mars Yard.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the Mars Yard.

Administrator Bolden, more accustomed to flying space shuttles, takes the controls of one of the Mars Yard rovers.

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.”

More information

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

Pathways to Space

Powerhouse Museum

Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex

Story and images by Jonathan Nally. Bolden portrait image courtesy NASA.

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  1. Jonathan Nally says:

    Hi Phill,
    Thanks for writing. I’m sorry it has taken me a few days to get to answer you.
    The speed of light “speed limit” is not predicated on how much energy we can pump out of a rocket using current fuels. It is a primary function of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. So far, that theory has stood up to all tests.
    The apparent contradiction about space expanding, is that Special Relativity says that *objects* cannot move *through* space at faster than the speed of light (and in fact, anything composed of normal matter cannot travel *at* the speed of light either) … but space itself, the invisible fabric of the universe, is not prohibited from expanding faster than the speed of light. When scientists talk about the expansion of the universe, they’re referring to space expanding, not the *objects* in space moving through space.
    More info here:

  2. Phill Rungie says:

    Jonathon Nally, I heard you on the ABC (Australian) radio tonight (13.4.12) talking about the expanding universe, when you said that some of the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light.
    I have had a number of conversations with “scientists” about this very subject, always to be told “That nothing travels faster than the speed of light” to which I have replied that firstly, our space travel is limited to burning fuels, be it gas or solid, and that only when we harness light and convert it to propulsion, and be able to travel at the speed of light, will we truly be able to travel in space.
    And secondly, our knowledge is limited to what we know, and therefore scientists are working with blinkers on, rather than assuming that object can travel faster than light.
    This comment has always been met with distain, and I’m politely treated as one would with a matric maths student talking to a child in kindergarten.
    If an object can travel faster than the speed of light, how do you measure the speed? What is it called? How fast can an object travel? how does it gain its velocity? And I might add – stop? And lastly, would the object cause the equivalent of a sonic boom as when a plane does going faster than sound?
    Kind regards
    Phill Rungie
    8 Forbes Road
    Aldgate 5154
    South Australia

  3. Jonathan Nally says:

    Hey, that’s fantastic Jordan. You certainly are one lucky student. 🙂
    He seemed like a very nice man. What did you get ask him, and what did he say to you?
    And are you enjoying the Pathways to Space?

  4. Jordan says:

    I WAS THERE!!!!

    Im one of the students