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Old volcanic rock to represent Victoria in space flight

22 October 2013

Old volcanic rock to represent Victoria in space flight

Dr Alexander Gerst in spacewalk training (image courtesy of the European Space Agency)

A small piece of pumice that originated during the Taupō eruption almost 1,800 years ago has been selected by a Victoria University of Wellington professor to go on a European space flight.

The pumice will accompany European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Dr Alexander Gerst on a six-month mission to visit the International Space Station, which is currently orbiting Earth.

Dr Gerst is a former Victoria University student, who studied under geophysics professor Martha Savage at the Institute of Geophysics several years ago.

He will serve as a flight engineer on the mission, which is scheduled to leave Earth at the end of May 2014 and return six months later in mid-November. 

He invited Professor Savage to contribute an item to take on the journey to the International Space Station and she selected a small, rectangular piece of pumice, measuring two and a half centimetres in width and weighing just over 14 grams.

“I chose it because it’s lightweight and small, and beautifully represents the University and the highly regarded earth sciences programme we run here, which Dr Gerst was part of for a time,” says Professor Savage.

She says being able to provide an item for the flight provides an exciting opportunity for Victoria University to be part of Dr Gerst’s first-ever space exploration.

“It’s also a reminder of the kind of things talented students like Dr Gerst go on to achieve with a Victoria University education.”

After completing his Master’s degree at Victoria, Dr Gerst gained a PhD in volcanology from the University of Hamburg in Germany. He then joined the European Space Agency and trained as an astronaut.


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