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Grace scores coveted NASA space

An aspiring astronaut from Martinborough has been awarded a scholarship to intern at NASA.

Grace Jacobs Corban, 26, is one of six tertiary students from New Zealand who will intern at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] in June.

The New Zealand Space Scholarship – a collaboration between the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and NASA – will give Corban the opportunity to gain practical experience in science communication and education.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but it was exciting to get the scholarship,” Corban told the Times-Age.

“It really validated everything I had been working on for the past couple of years.”

In 2015, at age 17 while attending St Matthew’s Collegiate School, Corban was selected by the Royal Society of New Zealand for a space camp at the International Advanced Space Academy in Alabama.

“St Matts had some really good science and maths teachers, and as time has gone on, I have really come to appreciate how much that benefited my high school education,” she said.

“That was influential for this whole trajectory.”

Corban has recently completed a Master of Science in Society at Victoria University in Wellington and will now undertake a PhD in Mathematics Education.

She will begin her three-month internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where she will help develop science education material for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program.

Corban said she is looking forward to meeting “amazing people”, working alongside her mentor, having access to expertise, and gaining an insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes.

“I am really interested in what I can learn about making science more accessible and how I can apply that to New Zealand,” she said – although becoming an astronaut is definitely on her bucket list, so “if NASA offered me a job, obviously, I would say ‘yes’!”

Corban’s project during the internship will involve adapting science communication resources to fit with the school curriculum.

Corban noted that although New Zealand’s investment in the space industry is new, it is definitely growing, citing how Rocket Lab has now conducted the fourth most rocket launches in the world from the Māhia Peninsula and is developing new tech that can be seen in space.

In announcing the scholarships, Space Minister Judith Collins said they are a fantastic opportunity for talented students to gain not only “hands-on experience” but access to NASA’s best and most advanced research facilities as well.

The scholarship was “one of the ways the Government encourages the next generation of talented people to pursue careers in space-related fields, helping to ensure the ongoing success of our space industry.”

“These internships are the latest example of the strong, collaborative partnership we have with NASA and the US, which continues to offer opportunities for space science, technology, and cooperation on a global scale.”

“The interns themselves are testament to the emerging talent we have in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in New Zealand.”

The five other scholarship recipients were Narottam Royal and Alexandra McKendry [University of Canterbury], Tait Francis [University of Otago], Axl Rogers [Auckland University of Technology], and Faun Watson [Victoria University of Wellington].

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