Space Prize Winner Returns to Australia After 10 Weeks at NASA









Space Prize Winner Returns to Australia After 10 Weeks at NASA


Elizabeth Blaber, inaugural winner of the VSSEC-NASA Australian Space Prize, has returned to Australia  after a VERY busy Academy program. Read about her experience of testing space flown samples with Dr. Eduardo Almeida, Principal Investigator of the Bone Lab at NASA Ames Research Centre, and her chance to walk in the footsteps of the shuttle astronauts when she went to the top of the launch tower at Kennedy Space Center.


The VSSEC-NASA Australian Space Prize was established to provide opportunities for talented graduates, highlight current space research in Australia, strengthen collaboration between Australia and NASA, and communicate current space research activity to secondary school students. The prize also aimed to promote collaboration between Australian professional associations, industry and universities in support of space-related activity. The first year of the prize has been a very positive start towards meeting these objectives.

From Elizabeth's account of her Academy experience there can be no doubt that she has benefited from the program and her invitation to  return to the US in October to continue work on the research project is definitely a positive step in strengthening collaboration between Australia and NASA.  Elizabeth is an excellent role model for any student dreaming of working in the space industry. During her Academy program many secondary students followed her blog and in early October she will spend time at VSSEC helping to develop a school-based activity and support material to further stimulate interest.

While in Melbourne, Elizabeth will be speaking at Engineers Australia

Monday 4th October 6:00 - 8:00pm
Engineers Australia, John Connell Auditorium
21 Bedford Street, North Melbourne, Vic
Light refreshments will be served following Eliza
beth's presentation
FREE, Everyone welcome
To register, visit the Engineers Australia website
Download a flyer


Students considering submitting an application are encouraged to attend. For those who are unable to hear Elizabeth speak, and for those who would like a taste test, Elizabeth has contributed an overview of her experience.


Deadline for 2010 applications: Monday 6th December


For more details and guidelines visit www.vssec.vic.edu.au/tertiary/vssec-nasa-australian-space-prize/










On Sunday 13th June 2010, 11 University students from all across America, 1 Canadian student, 1French student and I met for the first time at the Emeritus Director’s house for a welcoming BBQ. All of us were very nervous and excited and couldn’t wait to undertake our 10 weeks in the NASA Ames Academy. None of us knew what to expect, all we knew was that it would be an eventful summer but none of us knew just how eventful it would be.








The first thing that the Academy Director, Dr. Brad Bailey, told us was that this would be the best summer of our lives but we wouldn’t be sleeping very much. Again, none of us really knew what that meant nor did we believe just how true those words would be. Now, looking back on the summer I can say that this was the best summer of my life. Not only did we visit places and see things that I have never dreamed that I would be able to do, we also made lifelong friends, initiated collaborations and met some truly inspiring people.

We started off the summer with a team bonding trip to Lake Tahoe where we stayed with Doug O’Handley (Emeritus Director) and his wife Christy, or their friends the Zimmerman’s and the Neuman’s.  Here we truly bonded on a short hike which turned into climbing a mountain for some of the more adventurous students. To end our Tahoe trip we went white water rafting down the American River, another team building exercise.

After Tahoe it was Parent’s weekend, where all of the families of the Academy students could come to Ames for a tour and to spend some time with their sons/daughters. We saw a lot of Ames including the Vertical Motion Simulator, Future Flight Central, the Mars Wind Tunnel, as well as personalised tours of our individual labs. After parents weekend we headed off to Southern California for tours around the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dryden Flight Research Centre and Space X where we saw ATHLETE, a giant robotic spider; the Mars Science Laboratory under construction in the clean room; SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy); DC-8, a flying Laboratory; and the construction of Falcon 9 rockets.

After Southern California was our only free weekend, where we could decide what we wanted to do. The Academy decided to spend the night camping on the beach in Santa Cruz, which involved some campfire singing and lots of Smores.

Then it was off to Florida for the much anticipated Kennedy Space Centre tours. Kennedy turned out to be more than any of us had ever anticipated. Not only did we see the Endeavour shuttle in the Orbiter Processing Facility, the Vehicle Assembly Building and the Space Station Processing Facility but we also got to go to the top of the launch tower, a privilege usually only reserved for astronauts boarding the Shuttle! However, thanks to the efforts of Bill Parsons (Previous Director of KSC and Stennis) we were able to take the Astronaut lift to the top of the tower and walk the footsteps of so many astronauts on their way into space.








After KSC, we headed back to Ames for a few days before heading to Yosemite National Park for the traditional half-dome hike, a hike not for the faint hearted. The last weekend of the summer was spent with Centre Director Pete Worden at his favourite winery for some very enjoyable wine tasting.

We also met several very interesting people besides Pete Worden. These included Seth Shostack from the SETI Institute, Jill Tarter and Frank Drake, Bill Borucki from the Kepler Mission, Dr. Carl Pilcher Director of the NASA Astrobiolgy institute and Bill Parsons (Deputy Director of KSC, Director of KSC, Director of Stennis Space Centre and Director of the Return to Flight Mission) just to mention a few.

But the summer was not only spent on multiple trips, much research was also completed on both an individual project for each student as well as a group project which each student contributed to. Approximately 60% of our time was spent on our individual project and our progress was reported in a midterm oral presentation and a final presentation and report. Our group project was conducted after hours and was also presented in the midterm and final oral presentations. Several academy students will also continue the group project after the Academy.

My specific project was working with Dr. Eduardo Almeida, Principal Investigator of the Bone Lab at NASA Ames Research Centre. I specifically worked on mouse bone tissue from whole animals that were flown on the STS-131 shuttle mission which landed in early 2010. Here I looked at the effects of spaceflight on mouse bone gene expression and found some very interesting results. The VSSEC-NASA Australian Space Prize enabled me to conduct critical space based research at Ames Research Centre with Dr. Almeida that aligns with my previous work at UNSW and that I will also be able to include in my doctoral thesis. However, the opportunities do not end there, I will hopefully be returning to Ames Research Centre in October to conduct some follow up experiments with Dr. Almeida and his lab. This will enable a formal collaboration to be established between Dr. Eduardo Almeida and my supervisor here in Australia, Dr. Brendan Burns. I will also be able to participate in the flight team for the next set of experiments being flown on STS-133, the second last shuttle mission. This is truly an amazing opportunity that I would not have been able to participate in without the support of the VSSEC-NASA Australian Space Prize.

In short, the NASA Ames Academy provided the experience of a lifetime. I’m sure the other Academy students will agree that it was the best summer of their lives and I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the Space program or space based research to apply for the VSSEC-NASA Australian Space Prize, you will definitely not be disappointed!

An event such as this doesn't happen without the support of a large number of people. To all the staff at NASA and the US Consulate,  to everyone who assisted with the technical review and to the following sponsors, a very big thankyou:

  • CSIRO
    Engineers Australia National Committee for Space Engineering
    Geological Society of Australia Specialist Group in Planetary Science
    La Trobe University
    Victoria University
    The University of Sydney
    Australian Centre for Field Robotics University of South Australia
    Institute for Telecommunications Research
    Curtin University of Technology
    Monash University
    Monash School of Geoscience
    RMIT
    University of New South Wales
    Australian Centre for Astrobiology
    Swinburne University of Technology
    Swinburne Astronomy Online
    Australian Academy of Science National Committee for Space Science
    Australian Space Research Institute
    Australian Space Industry Chamber of Commerce
    National Space Society of Australia
    Mars Society of Australia


The Australian National University, along with the Planetary Sciences Institute, and the Royal Aeronautical Society have joined the sponsors list and many more reviewers have registered, including Australians currently working overseas in the space industry.

- CSIRO


- Engineers Australia National Committee for Space Engineering


- Geological Society of Australia Specialist Group in Planetary Science


- La Trobe University


- Victoria University


- The University of Sydney


- Australian Centre for Field Robotics University of South Australia


- Institute for Telecommunications Research


- Curtin University of Technology


- Monash University


- Monash School of Geoscience


- RMIT


- University of New South Wales


- Australian Centre for Astrobiology


- Swinburne University of Technology


- Swinburne Astronomy Online


- Australian Academy of Science National Committee for Space Science


- Australian Space Research Institute


- Australian Space Industry Chamber of Commerce


- National Space Society of Australia


- Mars Society of Australia