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Nasa administrator Bill Nelson in Wellington on Wednesday.
Nasa administrator Bill Nelson says New Zealand is contributing to the “golden age” of space exploration.
The US space agency boss was at Parliament on Wednesday, attending a celebration for five New Zealand students headed to Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California on a scholarship.
Nelson and Nasa deputy administrator Pam Melroy, both former astronauts, have been in New Zealand to meet government officials and tour the space industry.
“Who knows, while you’re there, we may have our first indication of life far out there in the cosmos,” he said to the scholarship recipients at the ceremony.
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Nelson said space exploration was now an international programme and New Zealand was a “fervent incubator of ideas” – the best example being New Zealand-based Rocket Lab.
Rocket Lab had provided the camera on a recent crew-less rocket which sent a “selfie” of itself, looking back at Earth from 430,000km away.
It was the furthest a “human-rated” rocket had travelled, Nelson said.
Rocket Lab gets the Capstone mission off to a good start in June. (Last published October 2022.)
He said, “yes”, he believed there was life other than humans in space.
Nasa was directed by US law to look for such life in the “vastness that we call the cosmos”.
He said Nasa scientists had calculated there were possibly one trillion, maybe two trillion, planets out there that had the same life-giving conditions as Earth.
Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash said New Zealand was “right up there” in the “space game”.
“Nasa is obviously the lead in the world … It is an opportunity to partner with the best in the world. So [we] send our best and brightest over there, to work in partnership with the best. Everyone wins.”
Five university students – Michaela Dobson, Leah Albrow, Jack Naish, Celine Jane, and Daniel Wrench – have been selected for a space scholarship that will send them to Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for 16 weeks.
Naish said the interns were “extremely excited”.