First Nations STEM students invited for NASA internships in California


(R to L) ASA Head Enrico Palmero, Monash Uni Associate Dean (Indigenous) NISA Lead Professor Christopher Lawrence, NASA Administrator US Senator Bill Nelson, NASA Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy and Joel Steele. Image credit: Monash University

Monash University is calling on Indigenous STEM students across Australia to become NASA’s newest interns at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California 

Backed by the Australian Space Agency, the global-first program dubbed the National Indigenous Space Academy (NISA) was launched in Adelaide on Tuesday as part of NASA Administrator Senator Bill Nelson’s visit to Australia. 

The program will send five First Nations students to the United States for a 10-week internship at NASA/JPL this year. 

The students will be selected from the pool of applicants based on academic merit and will first undergo a “Space Boot Camp” internship preparation program at Monash’s Faculty of Information Technology.

The boot camp will familiarise themselves with aerodynamics, robotics, astrophysics, planetary science, engineering, computer and earth sciences, as well as past and current space exploration missions at NASA. 

The internship program is open to any undergraduate and postgraduate Australian student who identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and is studying in STEM. 

Monash’s Faculty of IT will facilitate and administer NISA with financial backing from the Australian Space Agency, in partnership with Dr Adrian Ponce, who manages the internship programs at NASA’s JPL in California. 

“In the space sector, the partnership between the United States and Australia goes back to the days of the Apollo Moon landings, and this collaboration continues that tradition by providing research opportunities to Indigenous Australian STEM students who will consequently be on the path of space exploration,” Ponce said.

NISA was first established in 2019 by Professor Christopher Lawrence in partnership with NASA/JPL and has already supported three Indigenous STEM students to successfully complete an internship at the NASA laboratory. 

Lawrence said NISA seeks to serve as a pathway for Indigenous students to participate in unique NASA/JPL projects, such as robotics for the unexplored ocean worlds, robot perception control, artificial intelligence, and path planning.