What do an Australian prime minister, a stuffed toy koala with some nifty earrings and a gold Logie have in common?
They’re all reaching for the stars.
Scott Morrison inked a deal for the Australian Space Agency and NASA to co-operate on the Artemis mission to send man back to the moon and on to Mars in Washington DC on Saturday morning (Sunday overnight AEST).
While there, he was surprised by astronaut Pam Melroy who brought a toy koala that had been gifted by the Australians back in 2017 when the space agency Down Under was announced. The little koala has since travelled up to the International Space Station and back.
He also got to brandish the Logie award won by the first men on the moon – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins – for entertaining Australians 50 years ago.
“It seems that getting a Logie back then was a lot harder then it is today,” Mr Morrison joked.
The prime minister announced Australia is backing the co-operative deal with $150 million to help businesses and researchers develop new technology and capability.
The government hopes to triple the value of Australia’s space sector to $12 billion and create 20,000 jobs by 2030.
“We can’t wait to be part of the next stellar chapter, so beam us up,” Mr Morrison said.
“The growing amount of space sector work and innovation will also inspire the next generation to see the future of a career in these fields for the long term.”
Australia’s first astronaut, Andy Thomas, said he frequently spoke with the country’s scientists and engineers who were frustrated by not being able to participate in space programs and were now excited to be part of things.
“Australia has a staggering expertise, it’s dripping off the trees,” he told reporters.
“And the young kids are excited by it.”
His advice to young people who hope to follow in his footsteps is to study widely because when you’re in space, you need skills in many areas.
The government envisages Australians using their experience to develop things such as earth to moon communications systems, robots for use in space based on automation at mines, remote medicine drawing on our delivery of health services to places like Antarctica and the Pilbara, and very small satellites that deliver very high-resolution images.
It says these technologies won’t just help future astronauts but people living in remote and regional Australia too.
Mr Morrison also laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington national cemetery, where he met many of the Australian defence personnel stationed in Washington.
And he had a chance to chat with American veterans who are setting up new businesses with the help of start-up incubator Bunker Labs.
One of those businesses, Building Momentum, which trains Marines and other defence members to use technology such as 3D printers and laser cutters to solve problems, presented the mad Cronulla Sharks fan with personalised trinket boxes, one for each Morrison family member, engraved with their name and the football team’s logo.
And Joe and Josh from Assault Forward, which creates cufflinks and tie and lapel pins with the backwards flag insignia used on uniforms, told him about how they were helping veterans transitioning out of the force start conversations in their new civilian life about their service.
Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs are keen to examine models like Bunker Labs as they ramp up support for Australia’s retiring service personnel.
And after a day of ceremony at the White House designed to underscore the strong US-Australia relationship, it was highlighted once again when Mr Morrison planted an offspring of the famous 200-year-old Jackson magnolia that grows in the presidential gardens in the grounds of the Australian ambassador’s Washington residence.
Well, he placed a spadeful of dirt on the tree that was mostly already planted, joking, “Joe (Hockey) was out there this morning with a shovel!”