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NASA’s Antarctica and Space missions explored in Christchurch

10 May 2018

A key member of one of NASA’s premier space programs will share his views on Space, the Antarctic and the technological revolution at an event in Christchurch this month.

Zaheer Ali is the Science and Mission Operations Laboratory Supervisor for SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747 that carries a 38,000 pound, 100-inch diameter infrared telescope in her tail section.

His job includes testing, preparing and maintaining the high-tech arsenal of instruments that allow SOFIA to navigate the night skies at around 1,000 kilometers per hour, capturing images of planets, asteroids and outer space.

While most of his work is conducted on Earth, Ali has witnessed his share of outer space, met Neil Armstrong and got up close and personal with Mars while onboard SOFIA.

“I’m personally very interested in Mars exploration and the exploration of other worlds, so being onboard with the GREAT instrument as they measured Martian Atomic Oxygen was amazing,” Ali says.

“When I’ve flown, I’ve also had the privilege to view both the Aurora Borealis and Australis,” he says.

As the world’s largest flying observatory, SOFIA carries out regular space explorations from Christchurch and will be returning to its temporary home at Christchurch airport later this year.

“Christchurch currently has all the componentry to support a future space industry,”

Joanna Norris - CE ChristchurchNZ

 Ali will be speaking at Extreme Environments – from the Antarctic to Space, a Techweek ’18 event bringing together local, national and international experts to help attendees understand how exploration in the Antarctic is a dry run for Space exploration.

The event is being held on Thursday 24 May, from 9.30am until 6.30pm, at Addington Event Centre, 75 Jack Hinton Drive, Addington.

ChristchurchNZ chief executive Joanna Norris says the event will also highlight ways to use Space tech to provide innovative solutions to today’s current navigational and scientific challenges in Antarctica.

“Christchurch currently has all the componentry to support a future space industry,” Ms Norris says.

“This includes world class hi tech component manufacturers and tech companies providing solutions and parts for global aerospace companies, to education providers and schools with space programmes that visit NASA facilities, through to higher level training of rocket guidance systems, along with regulatory bodies that monitor airspace across NZ and other parts of the world.”

“Christchurch also plays a unique and important role in connecting Antarctica research with outer space as one only five global Antarctica gateways and home to the inaugural space challenge,” Ms Norris says.

For Ali and the NASA crew, Christchurch’s excellent facilities, a world class city, dry skies and perfect stellar positioning make it an ideal leaping off point to explore outer space.

“Christchurch is the perfect location to launch airborne missions,” Ali says. “Having access to Antarctica and the galactic centre also provides us with unique science cases to explore solutions for space research.”

He says human exploration of Antarctica in many ways prepares us to explore other worlds, including; “the obvious connections to human factors, life support, and technologies to support human life and growth are paralleled by connections to extra-terrestrial worlds in topology, geography, and weather.”

Ali will be joining a host of individual speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions for the event, including space lawyer Maria Pozza, Chief Executive of Antarctica New Zealand Peter Beggs; and Mark Rocket who was an investor in Rocket Lab and who established the first Space startup in New Zealand.

The day will culminate in the Grand Final of the inaugural NZ Space Challenge, where regional finalists pitch their Antarctic navigation innovations to a panel of national and international judges with $40k going to the winning designer.

The event will appeal to those from the science, research, technology, innovation and education eco-systems and anybody with an interest in the Antarctic and Space and saving the world.