Space scientist comes back to land he loves

The Centre for Space, Science and Technology’s new principal scientist Dr Dave Kelbe,  in front...
The Centre for Space, Science and Technology’s new principal scientist Dr Dave Kelbe, in front of staff drawings and diagrams. Photo: Tom Kitchin
Alexandra's Centre for Space, Science and Technology is growing in numbers, as an American scientist has signed up to the team, returning to the land he loves in New Zealand.

Dr Dave Kelbe, originally from Rochester in New York state, is the centre’s new principal scientist and has been in the job for nearly three weeks.Dr Kelbe received his PhD in imaging science from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2015.

In his previous role at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, he designed and led a software tool to reconstruct the topography of the earth’s surface, helping people make better decisions for the land they live on.

Dr Kelbe first came to New Zealand as an exchange student in 2008, at the University of Otago.

"I was here 10 years ago and it felt like home ... my family have kind of been annoyed at me for the last 10 years because it’s just been a wistful longing, but it’s a special place. It was just amazing you can drive a few hours or walk a few hours and be in the middle of nowhere ... I love being able to have the access to the wilderness."

Alexandra was a bit of a change for Dr Kelbe — his previous job at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee had as many employees as Alexandra’s population.

"You’d drive through the gate to the research lab, then you’d drive another 20 minutes on a 100kmh highway just to get to the complex. It would’ve been an office complex of research facilities and super computers about the size of [Alexandra]."

But he liked moving to a company on a completely different scale.

"The thing that stands out is it’s easier to just make things happen, there’s less of the hoops you have to jump through."

Being so new in the job, Dr Kelbe said he was still trying to "get a feel" for New Zealand’s biggest challenges and how he could make his mark to help the country.

CSST chief executive Steve Cotter said Dr Kelbe was one of four new employees, bringing the total headcount to 12.

The company had recently hired principal research engineer Robert Schafer.

Two more staff were due to begin soon — software developer Simeon Miteff from Berkeley Lab in California would join later this month and senior scientist focusing on water quality Dr Moritz Lehmann, currently a senior research fellow from the University of Waikato, would join next month.

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