Innovators bound for France

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Young innovators from Alexandra are off to France to attend the Toulouse Space Show later this month.

Dunstan High School pupils Andre Schaap (16), Ruby Shaw (15), Jake O’Malley (16), Justin Tudor (16) and Damien Miller (16), were told about the trip during a surprise announcement at their assembly on Friday.

The five pupils were the only high school team to take part in the ActInSpace New Zealand hackathon, a 24-hour competition that challenged people to design the next space technology.

Jake said their idea was “basically augmented reality with street art – a good comparison would be something like Pokemon Go,” he said.

Ruby said they began working on one idea before abandoning it.

“We spent about four hours on one idea and then we realised there was nothing to it, it wasn’t going to work at all.

“And so we all sat and thought for about half an hour and then Jake came up with this brilliant idea and we all kind of thought ‘this is it, this is what we are going to do’, and we all worked on it from there.”

It was “unreal” and “incredible” when they heard they were going to France, Damien said.

“We got into assembly and we saw these people we didn’t recognise and we thought ‘there’s something happening, something is up’.”

The team were keen to show that New Zealand was “more than rugby”, Jake said.

“In New Zealand, if you can hold a rugby ball in your hand you are a national hero, whereas I think there is that intellectual side to New Zealand that is not really seen as much as it could be.”

As “the only one who takes French” it will be up to Damien to help translate while they are overseas, he said.

“No-one else speaks French so that could be interesting.”

ActInSpace NZ event director Kelsi Doscher said the pupils were the youngest team participating, “by far”. Other teams were of university age.

They came in a close second with their idea, but the judges were so impressed they made a special decision to send the team to France, she said.

The Toulouse Space Show was a forum which had more than 3000 people from space organisations around the globe, she said.

“They won’t compete in the final but will be able to pitch their idea in front of an international audience of start-up investors and key space industry players and learn from the experience,” she said.

The cost of the trip was covered by The New Zealand Space Agency.

General Manager Science, Innovation and International at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and lead for the New Zealand Space Agency, Dr Peter Crabtree, said they supported events like ActInSpace because they wanted to build a domestic space industry ecosystem.

“How we foster our young talent in space sciences and space engineering will play an important role in developing that ecosystem,” he said.

ActInSpace New Zealand was organised by the Centre for Space Science Technology (CSST) in partnership with New Zealand Space Agency and ChristchurchNZ and support from the French Embassy in New Zealand.