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Indigenous students begin NASA internship in California

Five Indigenous students have begun a 10-week internship at NASA’s iconic Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California after winning a competition organised by Monash University.

The cohort includes two female and three male students, and the initiative will provide a pathway for them to participate in robotics and AI projects.

Professor Christopher Lawrence oversaw the National Indigenous Space Academy scheme and appeared on Space Connect’s podcast in April to discuss it. You can listen to the episode below or on your device here.


The five successful students have been named as:

  • Cedar Lett, Griffith University;
  • Edward Vanderfeen, Western Sydney University;
  • Lincoln Bourke, University of Sydney;
  • Linden Beaumont, Monash University;
  • Tully Mahr, University of Melbourne.

Professor Lawrence, a Wadjak/Ballardong Noongar man, previously told Space Connect that Indigenous Australians were the first scientists, engineers, technologists, mathematicians and doctors.

“We share a vision with the Australian Space Agency to foster career development for First Nations people in the space sector with the ultimate goal to see the first ever Indigenous Australian astronaut,” he said.

The chosen students first participated in a space boot camp focused on aerodynamics, robotics, astrophysics, planetary science, engineering, computer and earth sciences before making their trip to the US.


The scheme is being funded by the Australian Space Agency, and its head, Enrico Palermo, insisted a diverse STEM workforce is a priority of the Australian Government.

“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,he said.

“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.”

NISA was established in 2019 as a pilot program and has already supported three Indigenous students to take up internships at NASA/JPL.

According to Joel Steele, who participated in the 2019 pilot and is now a research fellow at Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute, the program opened up numerous pathways for him.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I learned a lot of new skills that have assisted me in my career, in addition to meeting amazing scientists. I was also able to assist in projects outside my subject area of space biology. The highlight was getting to operate the flight simulator used to train astronauts and pilots,” he said.

“I never imagined it was ever possible for me to work or learn at NASA. This was something so far outside the scope of what I thought was possible.”

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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