The woman putting Australia into space


Australia is late for the space party. The leader of her new space agency, Megan Clark, said that on her own. This continent, in the perfect southern hemisphere to peer into the galaxy, has been one of the last developed countries to get a space agency, and she could not understand why.

So last year, Mrs. Clark led a committee of experts to determine Australia's space capabilities, and what they found surprised them. The size of the existing industry was much larger than the previous estimates. And never before has Mrs. Clark seen the parties so united in one cause: the vast majority of players had called for a space agency to act as a single Australian portal to attract investment, support and guidance.

"And that makes your job really easy, because then you can go to the government and say," The country is united, take a step here. "There is no disadvantage, there is no stakeholder who does not want it" , says Clark said in an interview. "And it's not a small group, it's not a small voice, it's the nation that wants it."

The Australian space agency officially began a few months later in July – with singer Clark named as its first chief executive. It now oversees a plan to triple the value of the Australian space industry to between $ 7 billion and $ 9 billion a year by 2030.

Clark and his team started running. The agency signed memoranda of understanding with space agencies in France, the United Kingdom and Canada, was praised in a resolution in the United States House of Representatives that promised more cooperation and signed a declaration of intent with Airbus.

When the agency's creation was announced, the public was a bit skeptical of the $ 30 million limited budget over four years. This led to boomerang rocket cartoons and internet jokes about a mock agency, Australian Research & Space Exploration, or ASS. (By comparison, NASA's budget this year is about $ 20 billion.)

Megan Clark at the Canberra Complex Deep Space Communications in 2012 with its director, Ed Kruzins on the right, and then the American ambassador Jeffrey L. Bleich.

Megan Clark at the Canberra Complex Deep Space Communications in 2012 with its director, Ed Kruzins on the right, and then the American ambassador Jeffrey L. Bleich.

Ms Clark is not upset. For her, the size of the agency's budget is not a very important factor for her immediate success. While NASA's budget allows it to dictate to the American space industry, ASA's goal is to attract investment and create international partnerships, guiding the industry and uniting it under a national flag to help it grow – a role it claims to be very harder.

"There is an emerging shift in the role of government from the sole funder to the partner and facilitator," said newly appointed industry minister of science and technology Karen Andrews in a speech at the Australian Space Research Conference in September. "These partnerships are expected to lead to new ventures, increasing the growing momentum in the industry."

Clark feels that he is well prepared to guide the agency through his growing pains. Her career, which she calls the "higgledy-piggledy," ranges from mining geology to venture capital, through the banking sector, to becoming the first chief executive of CSIRO, an Australian scientific research agency. Each of its positions, she said, has been linked to the extent that it has turned the discovery into economic value – an important goal of most space agencies.

Like many of his colleagues, Clark maintains a childlike wonder in the mysteries of space, especially Australia's role in deciphering them. She spoke with enthusiasm about witnessing the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars through the deep space center operated by CSIRO near NASA near Canberra, Australia, when she was the executive director of CSIRO. She praised a virtual reality program by a Melbourne developer, Opaque Space, who caught the attention of NASA and Boeing Defense.

His mantra repeated by itself is "just do what's in front of you." She climbed stairs in her career, dealing with one task at a time, a pressure-fighting tactic she attributed to an experience she had when she was 12. A doctor told him that if he did not overcome the debilitating nervousness, he would continue to suffer. as a preteen, she would never be able to perform a stressful job as an adult. In a way, she devoted her life to proving that the doctor was wrong.

She did not leave much of an inconvenience in her quest for discovery, a trait that left her in her mid-twenties: she was caught working at an underground mine in Western Australia, which was against the rules.

"The game was that if a mine inspector came in, you would appear on the surface, and as long as they did not see you working underground, or as long as you were not shamelessly working underground, they'd sort of turn up blind eye, "said Dr. Clark. "And I just thought it lacked integrity:" This is what I do, and I will not hide it ".

A radio telescope in Parkes, Australia, which was involved in the Apollo 11 mission.

A radio telescope in Parkes, Australia, which was involved in the Apollo 11 mission.

Torsten Blackwood / Agency France-Presse / Getty Images

His boss at the time was told to fire her or change her, but he came to her defense and got an exception, and the law was changed shortly after, in 1986. The experience was "confronting," but she did not regret have done it. job.

Clark grew up in Perth, the most isolated capital in the world and what she calls "the ultimate capillary of the global network." She thought there were only two career options in Western Australia, promising a move into the world: mining and oil. She chose mining.

She has a strong sense of adventure, a trait she claims to be essentially Australian, and was taken by the feeling that "the world is out there, not here." She chose where to do her Ph.D. in economic geology – Queen's University in Ontario, Canada – finding out where you would end up getting a pin all over Perth.

Now, she says, the next generation of Australians should take advantage of this adventurous instinct to travel beyond the planet, not just to the other side of the world. Opportunities for Australians to enter the space market have evidently been scarce – all three Australian astronauts have received US citizenship and gone to work for NASA – but now she wants to bring back lost potential.

Her busy schedule makes her sometimes forget how influential her presence as head of the space agency and as a woman is. But she received a stream of letters from boys and girls that remind her of the power space has to inspire young people.

"You see that in space, that curiosity you had as a child. Some people do away with them, but some people do not, and end up in the space industry," she said. "That curiosity is really important, and this feeling of being a kid and being able to be a little nerdy about it."

Australia may not launch its own rocket at Mars anytime soon. But she is confident that she will see a human on the red planet in her life, and hopes that an Australian is among them.


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