Tāwhaki hosted the two most senior leaders from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at Kaitorete last week, part of NASA’s week-long visit to Aotearoa.

NASA’s highest-ranking official, Bill Nelson, and Deputy Administrator Pamela Melroy, one of only two women to command Space Shuttle missions, were hosted by Tāwhaki last week. The NASA leaders were given an aerial tour of Kaitorete with a bird’s eye view of Aotearoa’s first multi-use Aerospace Research Site.

Pilot and CEO Daniel Currie from Garden City Helicopters passed by the marae of both Wairewa and Te Taumutu on their way to Kaitorete. Tāwhaki Chair of the Board, Henrietta Carroll (Wairewa Rūnanga), and board member David Perenara O’Connell (Te Taumutu Rūnanga), shared pūrakau and history of the area and the significance of the hāpua. Our CEO, Linda Falwasser, spoke of the dual kaupapa of Tāwhaki, to rejuvenate the whenua of Kaitorete and further the opportunities of aerospace research and development in Aotearoa.

Senior NASA leader Bill Nelson views Aotearoa’s first multi-use Aerospace Research Site from the air.

NASA leaders Bill Nelson (centre) and Pamela Melroy (far right) with Tāwhaki board chair Henrietta Carrol (Wairewa Rūnanga) and David Perenara O’Connell (Te Taumutu Rūnanga), Tāwhaki CEO Linda Falwasser (left), Garden City Helicopter CEO and pilot Daniel Currie (far left) and Hoani Hakaraia of the New Zealand Space Agency (far right)

Senator Nelson said earlier this week that Aotearoa is well-placed to take a significant role in the golden age of space exploration. This is the first time a NASA Administrator has travelled here and demonstrates the strength of the partnership between Aotearoa and the US in space cooperation.

Māori culture and the Māori view of space have been a topic of interest to the pair during their visit, along with space exploration in climate change research and mitigation.

These thoughts are reflected in the Ngāi Tahu pūrākau that gives us our name, which we shared with the NASA team: the story of the demi-god Tāwhaki who sought celestial knowledge from his gods. In searching out the pathway and climbing to the heavens, Tāwhaki gained experience, and relied on the guidance of others to be successful in his endeavours and support life on Papatūānuku.

We were pleased to also be part of the Aerospace New Zealand careers event at the University of Canterbury this week. Initiatives to help rangatahi have been introduced and announced by the NASA leaders during their time here, such as a scholarship that will see five university students sent to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for 16 weeks.

Te Puawai Perenara O’Connell shares the kaupapa of Tāwhaki with Leah Albrow and Michaela Dobson, recent recipients of NASA research internships that will take them to California in the coming weeks.

NASA employs almost 18,000 people and supports 312,000 jobs in the US alone. Its scientists study the Earth, its climate, our Sun, and our solar system and fund space technologies that will enable future exploration, for the benefit of humanity.

It was our pleasure to host the NASA leadership team, and we look forward to the future of the partnership between Aotearoa and the US in space cooperation.

NASA manuhiri, New Zealand Space Agency, Tāwhaki Chair, board and team members.