Aim high and follow your passion, Nasa scientist tells pupils

Trinity Catholic College alumnus and Nasa scientist Hamish Prince talks to pupils at the school...
Trinity Catholic College alumnus and Nasa scientist Hamish Prince talks to pupils at the school about his work on launching a satellite into space. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Teenagers at Trinity Catholic College were told to follow their passions by a former pupil, who said taking this approach led to him working for Nasa.

Nasa atmospheric scientist Hamish Prince graduated from Trinity Catholic College in 2014 — then called Kavanagh College — before going on to study geography at the University of Otago.

After completing his master’s degree, Mr Prince received a Fulbright scholarship to complete his PhD at the University of Wisconsin in the state capital Madison, which led to him working with Nasa.

"I didn’t really know what I wanted to do ... I knew I liked field work and being outside", he told pupils at Trinity yesterday.

For the past three years, he has been part of the science team at Nasa working on its Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-Infrared Experiment (Prefire) mission as part of his PhD research.

The team was sending a pair of satellites the size of Weet-Bix boxes into space to study the radiant energy emitted by Earth, to help measure sea ice loss, ice-sheet melting, and warming polar regions.

"There are big changes happening in our world and we want to be measuring them so we know how they are changing and what we can do to stop these changes", Mr Prince said.

The two satellites will orbit the Earth 16 times a day, taking about 90 minutes to make one full rotation.

The satellites will be launched by RocketLabs from Mahia, near Gisborne, on Thursday at 7pm.

It will take five hours before Mr Prince and his co-workers will know if seven years of development was successful, once it makes connection with a ground station after orbiting Earth four times.

The mission cost $40 million and the satellites are expected to be in the atmosphere for a year.

Mr Prince said he never planned to end up at Nasa, but following his passions led him to the position.

"I never had the goal of becoming a scientist on a Nasa project. I just followed my nose and did what I enjoyed.

"If you do something that you enjoy, then it won't feel like work and it'll just come naturally."

Mr Prince will complete his PhD this time next year, after which

he would return to Dunedin to see "where his nose will take him next".

Trinity Catholic College was the only secondary school in New Zealand to host Mr Prince. His other visits include the Otago, Canterbury, Auckland and Victoria Universities.