Faculty of IT Dean Professor Ann Nicholson, ASA head Enrico Palermo, NISA program lead Professor Chris Lawrence (centre) and US Consul General Kathleen Lively with the NISA students

Indigenous students off to NASA

Five Indigenous students will travel to the United States to undertake an internship program with NASA.
August 17, 2023
Peter W Lewis

NEXT week five Indigenous Australian university students will head to the United States for a once in a lifetime internship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with a possibility their next long trip will be to space itself.

The pioneering National Indigenous Space Academy (NISA) cohort was announced by project lead and proud Wadjak/Ballardong Noongar man Professor Christopher Lawrence, who grew up in Lockridge and the Swan Valley (Encouraging Indigenous youth to follow their dreams, Echo News, July 14).

The students have been chosen as the first ever cohort of Monash University’s NISA, supported by the Australian Space Agency.

The First Nations students will be partnered with a scientist or engineer mentor at NASA’s JPL in California for a 10-week internship, where they will complete projects outlined by their mentors while also contributing to current NASA JPL missions.

Professor Lawrence, who is Associate Dean (Indigenous) at Monash University’s Faculty of IT, said he was excited for the students to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity.

“These amazing young Indigenous STEM students will be working on ongoing NASA projects, including ocean exploration vehicles and characterising the microorganisms within the International Space Station,” Professor Lawrence said.

“It is incredible that we are able to empower our Indigenous youth to learn from the best in the world so we can nurture Australian capabilities in space research, and ultimately it would be great to see NISA produce the world’s first Aboriginal astronaut.”

Before flying out to the United States, the students will this week attend Monash’s Faculty of IT ‘space boot camp’ internship preparation program to familiarise themselves with aerodynamics, robotics, rovers, astrophysics, planetary science, engineering, computer and earth sciences as well as past and current space exploration missions at NASA.

Head of the Australian Space Agency Enrico Palermo said developing a diverse STEM workforce is a priority of the agency and the federal government.

“These students are going to be exposed to cutting-edge space missions and will develop knowledge and skills they can bring home to our space and tech community,” Mr Palermo said.

“As we continue to grow our space sector here at home, we have an opportunity to do that in a uniquely Australian way by embracing thousands of years of First Nations knowledge in making sense of the land, by looking to the sky.”

Looking ahead, NISA is eager to work with partners across the Australian and global space sectors to increase the scale of the program and support Indigenous-led space startups and entrepreneur-ships.

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