New Zealand We Have Lift Off

August 13, 2016
Iain MacLeod

Those of you that might have endured one of my seminars recently know what a fan I am of the ‘can do’ attitude of the local founders of RocketLab and how I offer them as an example of what our education system offers our young people.

Our education system strives to provide all young people the opportunity to learn how to learn and to be independent thinkers. What they then decide to do with it if course is another thing……

I’ll never forget when my two sons each hit ten years of age being exposed to ‘rich learning tasks’ at our local public primary school. At that age, the class was split into four groups and tasked with designing, building, transmitting and ‘marketing’ a radio station. Seriously. A radio station. They were ten! While there was some help from parents what these youngsters were doing was putting into practice what they had learned – physics, maths, and communication – written and printed and so on. Inspirational education.

And the result?

My boys aren’t DJs although one is working part time at it while studying. The eldest ended up last week (proud Dad) with a Bachelor degree in Marketing and has taken a keen interest in social media marketing. The aspiring DJ is studying Psychology in between ‘gigs’.

Not the point of this piece however……

Around then years ago a group of young Engineers from University of Canterbury asked themselves over a few beers if they could design, build and launch a rocket into space. Why? Seemed like a good idea at the time and it was a bit of a ‘who’s buying the next round?’ sort of situation. They wouldn’t have been the first young people to have dreamed so big in New Zealand, what they were proposing was big, bold and most people would have been daunted at the prospect.

But not so these young New Zealanders. They come from a long line of ‘can doers’.

If it is there, climb it (Mount Everest and Sir Edmund Hilary).

If it is an atom, split it and see what is inside (Sir Ernest Rutherford).

If you want a safe personal flying machine to strap on your back (Glenn Martin)

If you think it can fly – build it and try it out.

RocketLab? Martin Jetpack?

No. What might just have been the first plane. A little over 100 years ago a man now largely forgotten outside of New Zealand, Richard Pearse, built a ‘heavier than air’ flying machine and flew what is believed by many, several months before the Wright Brothers in the United States. He gets little credit and was largely forgotten by history which I suspect wouldn’t have bothered him.

The RocketLab team are just the latest in a long line of ‘Don’t say Can’t’ Kiwis involved in their own ‘rich task’.

These guys have attracted significant funding from among others, Lockhead Martin. This last fortnight has seen them gain permission from the US Government to carry a rover for a private US company into space and land it on the moon. That’s right – the moon. This is no pie in the sky either – these guys have brought down the cost of launching fridge sized (and smaller) satellites into space from millions of dollars to thousands of dollars. Their largely home grown technology works.

The launch facilities are built on the Mahia Peninsula in the Hawke Bay, the orders are coming in for commercial delivery into orbit of satellites and these guys are literally ready, to blast off.

I cannot begin to describe my excitement that this latest in a long line of ‘never say die’ highly creative and entrepreneurial Kiwis is reaching literally for the stars.

Mixed with a teensy weensy bit of disappointment that the bigger story this week in New Zealand was the NZ Sevens Rugby team crashing out of medal contention in Rio. I mean, yeah, it’s been a tough week on the sports field, but really? They aren’t aiming for the moon!

Surely the newspapers should be full of column inches devoted to these space entrepreneurs revolutionising space commercialisation? They in my view should all be awarded gold medals in ‘Don’t say can’t’!

And along with that a gold medal to my sons’ Principal back in the early 2000s who viewed education as preparing our children for one long tasked filled and rich life.

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