Interview - ABC Radio Perth, Breakfast

Russell Woolf
Aussie-made rover announcement

RUSSELL WOOLF: Waking up this morning, we’re hearing the news Australia is to play an important role in a Moon exploration mission. In a deal signed with NASA, an Australia made rover will be sent to the Moon to collect soil for testing. Our very own rover. The Government will fork out $50 million to businesses and researchers to help develop the technology, and it could be up there sooner than you think - maybe even as soon as 2026. Let’s have a chat with Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Melissa Price, who’s the Member for Durack and joins us this morning on the wireless. Minister, it’s nice to talk to you.

MELISSA PRICE: Thank you, Russell. Can I challenge you to play Rocket Man sometime today?

RUSSELL WOOLF: It’s a good choice. I played Walking on the Moon by Police, so… [Laughter]

MELISSA PRICE: I think a bit of Elton John would be good as well.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Well, when, when wouldn’t it be appropriate for a bit of Elton John? So, I will, I will do my best.

MELISSA PRICE: [Talks over] Well, that’s right. Yeah.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Now, how much of a step forward is this for the Australia Space Agency?

MELISSA PRICE: Honestly, how excited is Australia today? Australia is going to the Moon. And those next generation of young scientists sitting at home, listening to you – it might be a bit early for them but I’m sure they’re still listening to you, Russell - are thinking about, wow, I want to go into space, or I want to be involved with developing technologies to go into space. So this is fabulous news, great news for Western Australians. You know, I’m Member for Durack and, you know, I'm a West Australian Federal representative. Great news for Western Australia because we're starting to get some capability with respect to space technology. So, good news for, for the business community, science, science and technology as I said; and, and for budding scientists who are sitting there thinking, well, I want a bit of that space industry. So, yeah, great, great opportunity to create our own sovereign space industry. [Indistinct]…

RUSSELL WOOLF: [Interrupts] What exactly are we going to do? What's, what’s the- you know, how would $50 million be spent?

MELISSA PRICE: [Talks over] Right. That’s- Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So, well let me, let me just describe the mission. So our Aussie rover - and maybe we can talk a little bit more about what we might name the rover in a tick - but we're going to hitch a ride on a rocket. So our little Aussie rover, laying- weighing no more than 20 kilos, is going to hitch a ride - this will be a semi-autonomous rover - and when it gets to the Moon, it's very important mission will be to extract some lunar soil using equipment which will also be travelling in the rocket. And the intention is for- NASA will then establish whether, using, using that soil, whether we can sustain human presence on the Moon. So it is incredibly important. And this is the first time that we will have Australian technology on the Moon. 

RUSSELL WOOLF: We have had a relationship with NASA, and Western Australia, particularly, when it comes to these sorts of robots and rovers. I can remember speaking to somebody not that long ago that was using the Pilbara because the Pilbara was in some ways like the surface of the Moon, and I wonder whether that might give us some sort of head start. Do you think- you know, I mean, Adelaide’s going to get the subs by the sounds of things. Do you think you can, you can pretty much try to push this towards Western Australia businesses and researchers?

MELISSA PRICE: Well, I think, I think we've already got the capability, as I said. But what I'm, what I’m finding particularly interesting - and it comes to more to the name, so I- at the moment it's called rover and we will have a competition to name the rover, but my working title is Red Dog. And the reason why I'm chosen Red dog because it is a nod to the Pilbara. Because, as you know, we already have those, effectively, remotely operated equipment in the Pilbara, and this is the exact- you know, we- but they’re actually operated from Perth, and people will understand only so well here in Western Australia. But that is exactly the sort of technology that we will need to make sure our Aussie rover ends up on the Moon.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Barry Cable was one of the best rovers ever saw running around. I reckon Barry’s a good name as well, if I can just throw that. 

MELISSA PRICE: So, Barry’s good, and you're not the first person to have made that gag this morning, I'm so sorry. Even though it’s early, you’re not the first.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Really? That’s- [Laughter]

RUSSELL WOOLF: I’m insulted. How early are people getting up, for God's sake?

MELISSA PRICE: Well, for me, half past two. 

RUSSELL WOOLF: Okay. So when is a decision on all of this likely? When will we know, you know, who's going to be, who’s going to be getting their hands on some of this $50 million? 

MELISSA PRICE: [Talks over] Yeah. So- Yeah. So, early next year, we will, we will be calling for submissions. And, you know, whether that's just one organisation - I imagine it'll be a team of various scientists and business people coming together, innovators, coming together. You know, not necessarily based just in one state. You know, I'm imagining that there could be a team of scientists and innovators from all around the country that come together to produce our Aussie rover.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Okay. And is it right that it could be, you know, it could actually be attached to a NASA rocket in as soon as 2026?

MELISSA PRICE: 2026, yeah. It's going to hitch a ride. It’s going to hitch a ride. So it's going to be in the rocket. It’s going to be in the rocket. So, it's got to be less than 20 kilos, but it'll hitch a ride on the rocket. And, yeah, that could be as early as 2026. That is just around the corner. 

RUSSELL WOOLF: And, now there's been a number of, sort of, you know, good announcements made by the Federal Government just in the last days. Are we reading between the lines, Minister, that there is a Federal Election in the air? 

MELISSA PRICE: Well, the Prime Minister has said, on numerous occasions, we're going to have an election in 2022, and that's my expectation.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Is it going to be early do you think in 2022?

MELISSA PRICE: I actually don't have any, any insight. You know, I think maybe there's only one person in Australia who knows when that election is going to be. 


MELISSA PRICE: And that's our Prime Minister. [Laughter]

RUSSELL WOOLF: Yeah, that's good. It's good that you added that for clarification.

MELISSA PRICE: [Talks over] Just, just in case there was any uncertainty.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Yeah. Great. Minister, it’s been good to talk to you. Thanks for having a chat this morning.

MELISSA PRICE: Yeah, good on you. Thanks Russell.

RUSSELL WOOLF: Melissa Price, Federal Minister for Science and Technology. She's the Member for Durack.