AUT student Axl Rogers heads to NASA

10 May, 2024
AUT student Axl Rogers heads to NASA
2024 NASA interns

When Axl Rogers was a kid, he and his Nana spent many an evening sitting on the porch gazing into the night sky. Now, just short way off finishing his PhD in astrophysics at AUT, Axl (Ngāpuhi) is off to intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

As one of only six of New Zealand’s top tertiary students selected for internships at the US agency, Axl’s journey is supported by the New Zealand Space Scholarship, a government initiative that seeks to prepare students for future careers in the New Zealand aerospace sector.

Judith Collins and Axl

Axl with Space Minister Judith Collins

It’s a great achievement for the new dad, who is in his early 30s and grew up in West Auckland. But despite his talent, Axl says astronomy was never an obvious career choice for him.

“When I grew up, I wasn't aware that a career in astronomy was even a possibility for me. I dabbled in different things - from building to cleaning to mowing lawns. You name it, I tried it. I remember coming home from work one day and thinking ‘I'm sick of this - I don't want to do this anymore.’

“I really wanted to find something that I would truly enjoy for the rest of my life. At school, I found joy in maths and physics, delving into the mysteries of the universe. This curiosity led me to pursue higher education.”

At AUT’s School or Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences, Axl studied a double major in astronomy and mathematics before completing a master’s degree with first-class honours under Dr Willem van Straten.

Fast forward to 2024 and Axl is close to completing his PhD in astrophysics. He has co-authored academic papers demonstrating the use of pulsars to detect gravitational waves and works part-time as an engineer at Space-Operations NZ’s Warkworth Space Centre.

Beginning his three-month internship in June at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Axl will work with a team of scientists using radioastronomy to monitor, track and communicate with craft in deep space.

He hopes the knowledge he gains at NASA can be put into practice in his own work back in Aotearoa, and his Nana is always keen to hear about his findings too.

“My Nana's probably my number one fan when it comes space. Her keen interest and curiosity has deeply motivated and influenced me - and provided me with someone to talk to about it too," Axl says.

Having learnt so much from his Nana on those evenings on the porch, Axl is now able to share what he’s discovered with her in return.

“Being Māori and being an astronomer... I feel like it connects me to my whānau and a rich tradition of celestial navigation and understanding.”

It’s something that he has already begun passing on to the next generation too; his daughter’s name, Danika, means morning star and originates from the personification of the planet Venus.

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Axl in Warkworth

Axl at Space-Operations NZ’s Warkworth Space Centre