Future of space science in good hands

Issue: Volume 100, Number 8

Posted: 30 June 2021
Reference #: 1HAMdu

The NASA Scientist for a Day – Kaipūtaiao NASA mō te Rā competition encourages teachers to use space as context for learning across the curriculum and gives ākonga an insight into the wonders of space.

Competition winner and Southland Girls’ High School student Sophie Ineson with Kate Breach from the New Zealand Space Agency.

Competition winner and Southland Girls’ High School student Sophie Ineson with Kate Breach from the New Zealand Space Agency.

A wonderous blend of creativity and science, this year’s NASA Scientist for a Day competition challenged ākonga to learn about and explore the three moons of Uranus – with two bright young minds proving the future of space science is in good hands.

Sophie Ineson from Southland Girls’ High School eclipsed the competition for Years  7 and 8 (for the second year in a row), and Lucia Mochel from Whangamatā Area School shone bright in the Year 9 and 10 category.

The challenge was to write a 300-word essay about which of three moons of Uranus – Ariel, Oberon and Titania – they would want to explore with a robotic spacecraft.

Creativity meets critical thinking

Sharee Ineson, mother of Sophie and teacher at Southland Girls’ High School, says the competition falls within their ‘media mash’ programme, which provides extension opportunities for students to come together and work on projects that are of interest to them, and have a media component for the final presentation.

“Having the opportunity for students to go further in an area they are passionate about strengthens their self-confidence and encourages their creative and critical thinking – extending them as leaders of learning in a
life-long focus.

“We also link our work to being global citizens, so this naturally opens the opportunity to learn about groups like the New Zealand Space Agency and how they connect and collaborate with other international agencies. This in turn leads to careers education as the students, through their research, find out more about the world of space and the different roles people have in uncovering information.”

Sharee says the students were incredibly fortunate to be able to share their planning with NASA interns as part of a visit from the US Embassy in term 1.

“This was a key motivator, meeting these role models, and having them pose questions to the students that took their thinking further and built on their initial curiosity.”

With an essay of just 300 words, Sharee adds that the students had to think carefully about what they wanted to communicate, make careful selection on how much information to include, and to make their points clear and sequenced to form a complete essay.

Links with local curriculum

Rebecca Whatley, assistant principal, and head of science at Whangamatā Area School, says the competition connected in well with their local curriculum learning.

“We are currently learning about the laws of physics, which includes gravity, mass and force. Students are learning about the difference between mass and weight, and how this is represented on different planets within our solar system. With Matariki coming up, we are hoping to spend some time looking through our school telescope to see the stars.”

Rebecca says Lucia spent many hours researching and building her knowledge of the three moons of Uranus.

“Lucia has a high level of ability in literacy, which allowed her to submit a well-constructed and researched essay. I know that Lucia is going to continue with her learning, and I look forward to having her share this with her peers.”

Over the moon

New Zealand Space Agency head Dr Peter Crabtree says they were over the moon with the number of high-quality entries from over 40 schools across Aotearoa.

“The space sector is an exciting area that offers career opportunities across a wide range of jobs and after reading these entries, it’s safe to say that the future of New Zealand’s space industry is in very good hands.

“I’d personally like to thank all of the teachers who worked tirelessly with these students to inspire and engage their interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM] subjects.”

Both winning students will receive a Sky-Watcher 6” Dobsonian telescope from Astronz, and the help of their local Astronomical Society to learn how to use them. They will also have their essays published on both the NASA and New Zealand Space Agency websites.


Kate Breach from the New Zealand Space Agency at Southland Girls’ High School.

Kate Breach from the New Zealand Space Agency at Southland Girls’ High School.

Bright minds

Sophie’s experience

Sophie wrote about the moon Oberon, saying it intrigued her because like all moons, there is still so much unknown.

“When the NASA interns spoke to us earlier this year, they talked about not being afraid of the unknown and using it to spark questions and challenge ourselves. The new science knowledge for me was amazing.”

When asked what she likes about space science, Sophie says she loves the mix of science and creativity skills.

“I was lucky to visit the Kennedy Space Center in 2018; the science involved in space absolutely blew me away. When I was back in New Zealand, I started to think about how I could make sure others got that same experience.”

Sophie adds that the NASA Scientist for a Day competition has opened the world of astrology, and to see the night sky through the lens of the telescope is “amazing”.

“I love seeing how the sky changes and seeing the detail, especially on the moon. It makes you think about possibilities but also appreciate the world around you.
I like how there are so many different possibilities out there and how you can also be a global thinker and learn so much from other people.”

Looking to the future, Sophie says she would like to be a science communicator in the space sector and share how the different parts of science come together.

“The opportunities I have had through the NASA Scientist for a Day competition have encouraged me to keep using my creative skills alongside science to make dreams possible for myself and others. I would love to be the space version of Nanogirl and educate and inspire other students.

“The future is an unknown, so I will continue to challenge myself in different ways and know that some pathways I take may come to an end and that’s okay but to have the determination and vision to try another way.”

To summarise her experiences, Sophie points to a quote from one of her role models, Mae Jemison – an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut.

“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it and make it the life you want to live.”

Lucia’s experience

Lucia had many questions about the moons Oberon, Ariel, and Titania. She quickly got to work unpacking the vast amount of knowledge and data (mostly theoretical), and examined the geological, topographical, meteorology, atmospheric, and hydrological properties of the moons.

“I was acutely interested in the properties of the moons – whether they were theories or confirmed facts and were there life-sustaining qualities similar to Earth.

“Along with the research of the other moons, I was presented with the wondrous opportunity to discover new facts, hypotheses, as well as possibilities that were informative and developed my understanding of the planetoids,” she says.

With the research under her belt, Lucia says she also thought carefully about the writing techniques on which she could base her entry.

“Although I experimented with more fictional, narrative methods, I determined that a completely scientific, non-fiction approach with correct facts in a professional manner would be most appropriate.”

A very passionate young scientist, Lucia says she has been intrigued by scientific fields from a very young age.

“Science for me is almost a fictional book, as though there is a hidden world that every day is being further discovered and analysed. For me, it is so fascinating that every day there is the possibility to discover something new, a breakthrough that could change the entire world as we know it.”

She adds that when she was younger, she aspired to become the first person to go to Mars – to become an astronaut and explore space.

“I have been interested in space and almost all scientific fields my entire life; with the aspiration in my career to become a scientist, engineer, or astronaut.”


Competition winner and Whangamatā Area School student Lucia Mochel with  Tim Searles from the New Zealand Space Agency. Photo courtesy of Jennie Black, director of Whangamata News.

Competition winner and Whangamatā Area School student Lucia Mochel with Tim Searles from the New Zealand Space Agency. Photo courtesy of Jennie Black, director of Whangamata News.

NASA Scientist for a Day competition

The NASA Scientist for a Day – Kaipūtaiao NASA mō te Rā is a worldwide competition that NASA put on each year inviting students to write a 300-word essay to answer a question about our unique solar system and the exciting word of astronomy.

The competition encourages teachers to take up further space education as part of their curriculum, and to inspire and engage student interest in STEM subjects and space careers.

Read the winning essays and find out more
about the competition at mbie.govt.nz/science-and-technology(external link).

For ākonga keen to pursue a space career, a good place is to start is
mbie.govt.nz/spacecareers(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:40 pm, 30 June 2021

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