NASA dream comes true for engineering student

Engineering PhD student, Hammond Pearce, is one of only four students nationwide to receive the inaugural New Zealand Space Scholarship to intern at NASA in the United States.

Space scholar Hammond Pearce. Image credit Ola Thorsen, United States Embassy Wellington.

The scholarships are the result of a deal between the New Zealand Government and NASA to help create a thriving domestic space industry in New Zealand.

The four interns were chosen from a pool of 200 high calibre applicants, and will depart next month to spend ten weeks completing research at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley.

Hammond officially received his scholarship from Economic Development Minister David Parker and US Ambassador Scott Brown at the Beehive on 13 May.

David Parker said: “The primary goals of the New Zealand Space Scholarship are to support our high-achieving students in space related activities, build capability in New Zealand’s space economy and strengthen our connection to the global space network.”

Hammond, who is studying Computer Systems Engineering, will be joined by recent University of Auckland graduate Andrew Alder, who received a BA and BE (Hons) Conjoint in 2018 before relocating to Boulder, Colorado, to continue his studies in Aerospace Engineering.

The other scholarship winners are Rosemary Swears and Steven McCabe, both from the University of Waikato.

I definitely credit a lot of my success to my PhD supervisor Dr Partha Roop.

Hammond Pearce

Hammond says like most STEM enthusiasts, working at NASA has always been his ultimate dream. He added that the support he has received from his University colleagues and cohort since the announcement has been overwhelming and humbling.

“I am very lucky to be surrounded by caring staff and students. I definitely credit a lot of my success to my PhD supervisor Dr Partha Roop, who has been an inspiration to me all the way through my academic journey,” he says.

Hammond’s research focuses on safety-critical computer controlled mechanical systems. At NASA he will be working on a new type of neural network for controlling robots.

The New Zealand Space Scholarship covers the costs of the internship, including airfares to the United States, accommodation, living expenses and visa-related fees.

During their internships the students will publish regular blogs hosted on the New Zealand Space Agency website, sharing their experiences with other students, scientists, researchers and space industry professionals.

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