Reflections: Equinox in Australia

I am not the most avid social media poster. I don’t write as often as I should, preferring to curate and share the very cool things around the world that I think friends and colleagues would enjoy as I discover them. This post is an update on a recent trip. I hope you find it relevant whether you are in education or in a space related industry.

Prior to 2022 I had never made it to Australia. Last week I returned from my 5th visit to the Land Down Under. I have only been to parts of New South Wales and Southern Australia with most of my time in the Central Business Districts of Sydney, Adelaide or out in Parramatta (Western Sydney). It’s a beautiful country – and the people, warm and welcoming. A country close in size the continental United States, but with just 6% of the population. More than 25% of the population lives in the greater Sydney region. There is so much more to see and experience!

What brought me to Australia, strangely enough, was the result of the pandemic. As we all have our stories of the “before times”, digital media was a way to continue discussions and dialogue with like-minded folks not being able to leave our homes. Services like Clubhouse and Zoom emerged that enabled these discussions.

One incredible dialogue that became a catalyst for these Australian expeditions was with Ben Newsome, founder of Fizzics Education. Ben and I got to chatting in February 2021 about the state of education during the pandemic. Phrases that we heard (and used ourselves!) were “stuck at home” and “locked in”. Being like minded we asked ourselves how an astronaut might feel. Aboard the International Space Station or in a spaceship headed to the moon and beyond, an astronaut did not have that same psychology. There was much work to do! It took a few months, but what emerged was AVA – The Australian Virtual Astronaut Challenge.

AVA ChallengeFueled by the leadership and support from Dr. Scott Sleap and the NSW Department of Education, along with many contributors, AVA was launched that September 2021 with a focus on design thinking to solve existing problems in human space exploration. AVA is now celebrating its 4th year having served hundreds and hundreds of schools across Australia and the world. The AVA challenge is open now by the way, and if you like variety, there are a number of challenges you and your students can dig into right away! Earth observation, robotics, lunar settlements, food production, communication, and artificial intelligence are the categories for this year’s design challenges. What do you say, should we formally make this a global event?

AVA was the spark that lit the fire. Shortly after the launch of the AVA challenges, entered into a 3-year collaboration with Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences (MAAS) and the Powerhouse Museum. The Powerhouse is a venerable institution across multiple sites with origins dating back to 1879. The museum asked us to deliver a mission for students in western Sydney as an opening experience for the new museum and the Lang Walker Family Academy that was under construction. As the first NSW State Cultural Institution to be based in Western Sydney, Powerhouse Parramatta will be a transformational cultural precinct. It will be the largest museum in NSW with over 18,000 square meters of exhibition and public space, attracting 2 million visitors a year. Now in Year 3 of the project led by Academy Head Sophie Poisel, will launch a student’s algae investigation in collaboration with the Deep Green Biotech Hub at the University Technology Sydney, Fizzics Education, and our commercial service provider Space Tango this September aboard SpaceX-31 cargo resupply destined for a 30-day mission aboard the International Space Station.

This July, the Australian Space Agency celebrates its 6th anniversary. Australia knows deep tech is more than rockets, satellites, and robots. Over the last 2 years I have met many leaders in academia and industry – along with high school and university students – hungry for the future role Australia will play in the Artemis program and beyond. An example of the future thinking I have enjoyed in our meetings and conversations is with dear friend Jenny Mortimer, and Center Director Matthew Gilliham of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plants in Space (P4S) at the University of Adelaide. Just last month NASA approved the LEAF mission to send plants to the moon in 2026. Along with Brassica rapa, and Arabidopsis thaliana (a model organism we flew in our first 3 mission of ExoLab 2017-2018), P4S is supporting the investigation of the third plant, Woffia.

Developing a capable workforce is underwritten in all of the work we are doing. With the 2025 International Astronautical Congress convening in Sydney next year, business and government are playing a role in our work as well. How might we best bring the international community of space engineering, learning, and research together? That’s probably best to cover under a future post!

We have larger projects in the United States, Germany, South Africa, along with many institutions around the world. (Literally representation from Australia to Zambia!) ExoLab-11 is scheduled in September. Whether you join us in an existing mission, or create one of your own, let’s discuss how we might light the fire of learning for your community too. Come study life beyond Earth with others around the world!

From "K to Gray", can develop a bespoke interplanetary experience for your country, state, or district. Schedule time with us to discuss how we might help foster capabilities and skills for the next generation on Earth and Beyond for deployment in 2024/25. View some of our projects.

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