6 mins read 28 Dec 2020

Andy Thomas Space Foundation set to inspire future space explorers

The South Australian burgeoning space industry has recently been boosted with the launch of the Andy Thomas Space Foundation. Named after Australian Astronaut, Dr Andy Thomas AO, who flew aboard the NASA Space Shuttle and the MIR Space Station, the Foundation will inspire and support the growth of the Australian Space industry from economic and innovation development, through to education and training. 

Dr. Andy Thomas working in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Discovery while the spacecraft was docked with the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Andy Thomas Space Foundation Launches

A new foundation has been launched in honour of Australian-born Astronaut, Dr. Andy Thomas AO, helping bridge a gap between the Australian space industry and the wider Australian public, adding value to the strategic objectives of the Australian Space Agency. 

The Andy Thomas Space Foundation was launched on 20 November with the aim to stimulate the support for space as a platform for innovation and economic growth, education and training from primary through to tertiary education and to promote space as a domain for international cooperation. 

While honoured guests were unable to attend in person due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, former NASA astronaut Dr. Andy Thomas, South Australian Premier Steven Marshall, and Australian Space Agency Head, Dr. Megan Clark contributed to the launch via video messages.

The Foundation’s founding patron is Australian-born NASA Astronaut Andy Thomas who has flown four space shuttle missions, including a 6 and a half-hour space walk, and spent over 177 days in long-duration space occupation aboard the MIR Space Station. He has been a strong advocate and supporter of education pathways within the space industry in Australia. 

The founder and CEO of the Andy Thomas Space Foundation, Nicola Sasanelli, has previously held positions such as Defence SA’s Director of the Space Industry and R&D Collaborations project (2016), Director of the South Australian Space Industry Centre (2017) and in 2019, he joined SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre as Director of Communication and Outreach, becoming Senior Advisor of South Australian Space Industry Centre. 

Mr Sasanelli said at the launch “Government support for space activities has been instrumental in Australia - and particularly South Australia - participating in the space community in a very meaningful way. That participation will take a step forward with the creation of the Andy Thomas Space Foundation, which is committed to driving progress in education, research and innovation to ensure that the space sector is a key contributor to economic transformation at State and National levels.”

Mr Sasanelli says the Foundation will fund its activities through membership fees, philanthropic donations, grants and revenue from space-related public events. 

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall hailed the Foundation as “a great asset to supporting the State Government’s commitment to growing South Australia’s space industry”.

“The space sector is growing at an exceptional rate and we are working to position South Australia as a National and International leader. I congratulate everyone involved in establishing the Andy Thomas Space Foundation which will play an essential role in educating the public about space and promoting the achievements and aspirations of our space innovation sector.”

Australian Space Agency CEO, Dr. Megan Clark said she was pleased to be able to support the Foundation and work with the Foundation on the Australian Space Discovery Centre in Adelaide. 

“What a wonderful inspiration Andy Thomas is for all of us. The Foundation will be involved in outreach and education and it’s initiatives led by the sector and industry that can leave a lasting legacy.”

Australian Astronaut: Dr. Andy Thomas

Andy Thomas with Australian mementos in the Spacehab Module onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Credit: NASA

Dr. Andy Thomas graduated from the University of Adelaide with first class honours in Mechanical Engineering and also completed a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Adelaide before joining NASA in 1992.  In May 1996 Thomas was appointed Payload Commander in the six-person crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on a 10-day mission. 

Dr. Thomas has flown four space shuttle missions, including a 6 and a half hour space walk in 2001 to repair an electrical problem on the Discovery while it was docked at the International Space Station. 

Dr. Thomas called the opening of the Foundation a ‘great milestone for the community’ and spoke of the future opportunities the Foundation would open for the next generation.

“When I was a kid growing up in Adelaide, there were very few opportunities to learn about space... But because we have this foundation and the activities it is going to be sponsoring, young people today will have a myriad of options available to them to become inspired about space.

“I have to say I was profoundly humbled and appreciative when I was invited to lend my name to this organisation.  I can think of no finer personal legacy from my time as a professional astronaut than to do this.”

Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources – University of Adelaide

The Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources (ATCSR) is co-hosting the inaugural Australian Rover Challenge (ARC). The challenge series already runs in America, Canada, Europe and India. Credit: NASA

Less than a week after the Andy Thomas Space Foundation was launched, came the news that the University of Adelaide was naming their Space Resource centre after the celebrated NASA astronaut and University of Adelaide alumnus. 

Announced at the 10th Australian Space Forum on 25 November, The Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources (ATCSR) is the University of Adelaide’s hub of sustainable planetary resource research and education. 

“I am honoured to be associated with this globally unique education and research facility which seeks to address the challenges faced by long-term planetary exploration, while ensuring the near-term application of solutions here on Earth,” said Dr. Thomas.

Associate Professor John Culton, Director of the ATCSR, spoke of the need to rethink the technologies, processes and infrastructure required for long-term space exploration. 

“The Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources combines additional specialist capabilities from across the University to address the end-to-end value chain for sustainable off-world resource utilisation including energy and fuel, health and medicine, and food production.

“Addressing the challenges for sustainable planetary resource exploration also provides opportunities for developing new technologies that can underpin long term, sustainable, resource exploration and processing in remote locations here on Earth.”

See Dr. Andy Thomas’ video following the announcement of the renaming of the Andy Thomas Centre for Space Resources (ATCSR).

Visit the Andy Thomas Space Foundation website