Jennifer Francis, of Christ the King School, asks :-

Has a New Zealander ever been in space?

John Campbell, a physicist and historian of science, responded.

Not so far but one, William Pickering, had a lot to do with space exploration.

William Pickering was born in Wellington in 1910. His mother died in 1914 so he was raised by his grandparents in Havelock in the Marlborough Sounds. The grandfather ran a coach service and were poor due to motor cars putting them out of business. William coincidentally attended the same village school that Ernest Rutherford had attended three decades earlier when William's father was also there. After boarding at Wellington College, William had one year at Canterbury College before going to the California Institute of Technology where he took three degrees in electrical engineering.

After his doctorate he joined the Caltech faculty in 1923, where he initially worked on cosmic rays with Robert Millikan, who had received a Nobel Prize in 1923 for measuring the charge on the electron.

In 1944 he joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where he worked on guided missile systems. He became director in 1954 and in 1958 the lab was transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Under his direction the JPL flew photographic and scientific missions to the moon, Mars, Venus and Mercury. He twice featured on the cover of Time Magazine (March 8th 1963 and July 23rd 1965), was awarded the USA's highest scientific award, the National Medal of Science, in 1975 and received an honorary knighthood. Sir William Pickering Drive in Christchurch's technology area near the airport is named in his honour.

Bill Pickering lives in retirement in California.