01 Mar Laura Penrose: reaching for the stars at Spaceward Bound

2014 Nayland College graduate Laura Penrose has just begun a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Otago, majoring in geology, chemistry and oceanography. But she didn’t get there by accident: being selected as one of eight students to attend the Spaceward Bound conference in January has strongly influenced her course of study and future career opportunities.

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Spaceward Bound, an expedition to explore the Taupo volcanic zone in search of clues toward extraterrestrial life on Mars, took place from 16-21 January 2015. The location was chosen for its resemblance to the extreme environments found on other planets in the solar system. Laura worked with local and international astrobiologists and geoscientists to conduct experiments and make observations in the field. As part of the expedition Laura handled NASA space exploration equipment, such as the X-ray spectrometer used on the Mars Curiosity rover, as well as making an observational visit to the Red Crater on Mt. Tongariro.

A highlight for Laura was the opportunity to talk to the visiting scientists and build networks with like minded students. “We were able to gain a better understanding of life in the science world, and how a career path can change so much,” she explains. Spaceward Bound has inspired her to pursue a future in the sciences she is so passionate about.