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The next space generation

You’re floating, suspended in space.

Before you, the panels of the International Space Station gleam, and far, far below, a blue planet beckons.

It’s an exhilarating experience seeing Earth from this perspective and one available to all who pass through Carterton.

The Wairarapa Space Science Centre, the first of its kind in New Zealand, will be exhibiting ‘Look After Our Night Sky’ until the end of this month.

The brain-child of Star Safari duo Hari Mogosanu and Sam Leske, it is billed as an interactive experience, complete with virtual reality headsets and Mars rovers, that offers the chance to learn about space and how humans interact with it.

Leske and Mogosanu said the motivation for the exhibition, which they pulled together in record time, was twofold: Educating people about light pollution, and encouraging communities to engage with, and study, stem – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“Light pollution is not good for us, and it has a massive impact on the environment,” Mogosanu said.

“Mitigating it can be as simple as pulling the curtains. This is a chance to learn about the dark sky, given that we will be a dark sky reserve, hopefully really soon.”

An application for Wairarapa dark sky reserve accreditation is currently awaiting feedback from the United States-based International Dark Sky Association.

Mogosanu said dark sky reserve status would pay tribute to an “amazing natural treasure” in Wairarapa and would provide a strong foundation for astrotourism.

“Astrotourism is a huge opportunity for Wairarapa, and there’s significant room for growth as the sector matures and people become more aware of the reserve.”

She said the exhibition in Carterton’s former New Zealand Post Office would teach people about how to limit the amount of light they produce at night, and how to participate in citizen science projects mapping the night sky.

In addition to learning about light pollution, visitors will also have the chance to drive a Mars rover over a rocky model of the red planet.

The rovers, 3d-printed by Leske, are to the same design specifications as a rover due for launch to Mars in 2028.

The virtual reality headsets promise to deliver the x-factor, with a tour of a station rarely seen up close – the International Space Station.

Leske said each element of the exhibition was aimed at encouraging people, especially children, to engage with the vast expanse beyond Earth.

“We want kids to study stem, that is our mission in life.”

Last year the pair toured New Zealand and talked ‘space science’ with more than 12,000 students through their education programme in 62 schools.

However, Leske said the duo had an “entire community approach” to stem accessibility, and aimed to normalise conversations around space and stem subjects within whanau.

Leske said more than 38 per cent of all products launched into space last year, had components made in New Zealand.

“There is a growing space industry. We are the fourth most important space industry in the world.

“We especially want to open up children’s eyes and inspire them to realise that a career in the space sciences sector is a real possibility for them.”

The Wairarapa Space Sciences Centre pop-up exhibition is located in the former NZ Post Office on the corner of High St South and Holloway St. It is open from 10am-4pm daily, until Sunday, January 29. Entry is free.

Mary Argue
Mary Argue
Mary Argue is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with an interest in justice and the region’s emergency services, regularly covering Masterton District Court, Fire and Emergency and Police.

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