Interview - 6PR Breakfast
GARETH PARKER: Melissa Price is the Federal Minister for Science and Technology. Minister, good morning.
MELISSA PRICE: Good morning, Gareth. Australia is going to the moon. How excited are you?
GARETH PARKER: Well, Robin’s onto something.
Don’t you reckon?
MELISSA PRICE: [Laughs] I love that. I love that. A kangaroo tread- the imprint of a kangaroo on the tyre tread. Boy, if some other being came to the moon and saw that, they’d really wonder, wouldn’t they?
GARETH PARKER: Can you get that written into the tender documents, please?
MELISSA PRICE: I've just written it down…
GARETH PARKER: Alright. Okay.
MELISSA PRICE:…I’ve just written it down courtesy of 6PR listeners. Beautiful.
GARETH PARKER: Well done. [Indistinct]
MELISSA PRICE: I mean- also, Gareth, I’d really- I want to know people want to call this wonderful rover as well.
GARETH PARKER: Okay.
MELISSA PRICE: I've got my ideas.
GARETH PARKER: All right. There's another challenge for you. 133-882. What should we call the Aussie-made rover? And how can we make it Australian? Robin’s suggestion is a cracker, with the kangaroo imprint on the tyres. What name have you got in mind?
MELISSA PRICE: Red Dog.
GARETH PARKER: Oh, I like it. Very western. That’s very parochial of you, Minister.
MELISSA PRICE: [Talks over] And because this is a nod- this is a nod to- well, I'm from Durack, I'm from the Pilbara. This is a nod to the Pilbara. And of course, the reason why NASA want to partner with us is because we've already got the remotely operated trucks in the Pilbara and it's that technology that we will be able to incorporate into rover. So, I think it's only fitting. But that's just my working title. I'm not going to be the one that names the Aussie rover. But that's just my starting point. But, yeah, I'm all ears. We’ll have a competition to determine what the name of rover will be, so people will have an opportunity.
GARETH PARKER: Okay, we'll call it Operation Red Dog in the meantime. Just- so there’s $50 million that the Federal Government, the Australian taxpayers’ putting up with this project; why? And why are we involved? What's the actual mission?
MELISSA PRICE: Okay. So, what is the mission? So, look, this is an agreement that the Australian Government has reached with NASA for us to head to the moon. It's going to be an Australian designed and made rover. And let me just describe the mission. So, NASA will acquire a rocket, and on that rocket will go the rover. And when we arrive on the moon - and this is going to be a semi-autonomous rover. As I said, we're going to hitch a ride to the moon. And the rover is then going to be used to collect soil from the moon surface. NASA will then extract oxygen from that soil using a separate bit of gear that will be accompanying rover. And then the next step is for them to determine, you know, whether we can have a sustainable human presence on the moon, as well as supporting future missions to Mars.
GARETH PARKER: I didn't even know there was oxygen in the soil- on the Martian soil.
MELISSA PRICE: Say that again?
GARETH PARKER: I didn't even know there was oxygen on the Martian soil.
MELISSA PRICE: Well, that's what we're going to try and determine.
GARETH PARKER: Yeah.
MELISSA PRICE: But it's the first time that we will have Australian designed and made technology on the moon. That is the significance of this announcement.
GARETH PARKER: So you're looking basically for companies who might be interested in building it. What sort of- I mean, do we have people ready to go to build a rover, a lunar rover?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, you’d have to say that Western Australia already has this capability, not just in terms of space, but as I just described, the fact we've got remotely operated robots effectively, you know, trucks in the Pilbara that are being operated out of Perth. So we already have that technology and you’d have to say that, you know, that's the reason why NASA is very keen on partnering with us for this mission.
GARETH PARKER: Okay, well, when will this be up and running? When will it take off? Is there a launch date that we're working towards?
MELISSA PRICE: Yeah. Well, we haven't got an exact launch date because we still need to develop the technology and build the rover. But, you know, we're hoping as early as 2026, which is just around the corner, only 4 years to run. And early next year, there will be an expression of interest, and people will be able to find out more then.
GARETH PARKER: Alright. Minister, thank you. Now, just before I let you go. I spoke earlier with the Australian Workers’ Union’s Dan Walton, who's saying that we should have a domestic nuclear industry. As Minister for Science and also Minister for Defence Industries, do you agree with him?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, I think people will know the Prime Minister has made it very clear that Australia is not developing a nuclear power industry, and my sense is that the community, by and large, agree with that. But the nuclear power industry is not needed, clearly, for us to operate our nuclear subs. But one thing I do want to leave you with though, Gareth, is that what we do need in Western Australia, because there's no doubt that we will have nuclear subs coming to Western Australia is that we will need an industry to support those nuclear subs. We're going to need more nuclear engineers. We have to be good nuclear stewards. We have to know how to monitor and maintain the nuclear reactors on the submarine. This is a huge opportunity for Western Australia.
GARETH PARKER: All right. Minister, thank you very much. Melissa Price, the Federal Minister for Science and Technology and the Defence Industry. Seems that the nuclear industry’s still a non-starter, but we will be sending a rover to space. To the moon, to be precise.