Katina Curtis, AAP Senior Political Writer
(Australian Associated Press)
A whole new generation of Australian children will soon dream of flying to the moon and dancing among the stars.
As part of the prime minister’s visit to Washington DC this week, Scott Morrison signed a deal for the Australian Space Agency to co-operate on NASA’s Artemis mission.
In other words, Australia is helping the bid to return to the moon by 2024 and then on to Mars.
“We can’t wait to be part of the next stellar chapter, so beam us up,” Mr Morrison said.
Australian astronaut Andy Thomas says there’s now a pathway for the dreams of Australians looking to the stars to be realised.
“In the past (Australian scientists and engineers) have been really frustrated because they have wanted to participate in these programs, so they’re excited by it. And the young kids are excited by it,” he told reporters.
His advice to those seeking to become astronauts was to start thinking about it early and focus their studies on science, engineering or medicine, and pursue a higher degree like a doctorate to win essential post-graduate research capability.
But above all, he said it was best not to be too specialist in just a very narrow field.
“You might be very good at it, you might even win a Nobel Prize at it, but you’ve got to be able to do different things in the space business. You’ve got to be a generalist,” he said.
“So a proven track record of being able to take on different challenges outside your normal comfort zone and to do them well would serve you very well if you want to become an astronaut.”
The Australian contribution to Artemis, kickstarted with $150 million from the government, attracted a lot of attention.
Astronaut Alvin Drew says every time another country joins the lunar bid, it gets closer to reality.
“We’ve advanced technology and science and what we’re doing with exploration to the point that no one nation can do it by themselves any more,” he told reporters.
“A hundred years ago, individual scientists … could launch rockets. By the time we got to the 60s it took corporations to get those rockets into space.
“Each time we take another step it takes a grander coalition to make those things happen and so to have nations such as Australia and our global partners on the international space station joining on with us to get out there means it actually puts things within reach.”
He says working with the Russians on the International Space Station has taught him the importance of diverse viewpoints and putting different mindsets to work on the same problems.
“If you’ve seen Australia from space, I’m not sure it’s really from this planet, it doesn’t look like any other place on the world I’ve seen, especially the outback, it just looks alien,” he said.
“You’re going to bring a very different set of ideas and solutions and brilliant minds to this problem and inevitably that’s going to get us all through some critical hurdle.”
However, Thomas was more cautious about the overall venture and whether it was feasible in the president’s timeframe.
“I think having pressure on the schedule is a good thing in the sense that it motivates people but it’s also a bad thing in the sense that we know from past history that can lead to accidents because things get swept under the rug,” he said.
There were still many issues to be resolved, including what the consequences are for humans being exposed to the high radiation of deep space, and how to make sustainable life support systems that could keep astronauts alive for the two-and-a-half years a mission to Mars would last.
“You’ve got to have a life support system that will keep a crew alive for two-plus years – that is a daunting engineering challenge, it really is.
“We’re not there yet.”
NASA’s deputy administrator James Morhard said there were excellent reasons to dream of going to the moon and Mars.
“Because we look to build a better life for our children and our grandchildren, to possibly find solutions for Earth’s challenges, to choose to improve the human condition.
“We choose to find other human habitats and search for other life,” he said.