Dayne Kemp

Space engineer, Nasa

How many of us wonder what it’s like to work for Nasa? Dayne Kemp, a South African-born and educated electrical/space engineer, has turned his childhood rocket scientist dreams into a reality.

As a PhD candidate based at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California, Kemp’s primary research is focused on the development of a high-energy physics particle detector that can detect life, or signs thereof, in extraterrestrial and extrasolar environments.

“I have two ambitions with regard to my professional career. The first is to assist in protecting our planet, Earth, and to help improve the quality of life of its inhabitants. This is particularly important to me having grown up travelling around Africa. Space technology is already helping Africa in a big way with crop monitoring, water quality measurements, disaster monitoring etcetera,” says Kemp.

“The second is to look beyond our planet, explore the unknown and expand the frontiers of our knowledge. I hope to help unveil some of the universe’s endless mysteries such as ‘are we alone?’ and ‘how did the universe begin?’.”

During his undergraduate career Kemp founded the University of Cape Town’s Space Association, aimed at informing the youth about space science and technology. The association has since changed its name to the Space and Astronomy Association.

“Space science and exploration is at the forefront of technological advancement, which often leads to new scientific discoveries and/or invaluable inventions. Traditionally, ‘space’ has been something only pursued by a small handful of government agencies and research institutions. However, with the relatively recent commercialization of space, there has been a large spike of interest resulting in more private companies, universities and individuals getting involved.”

Mark Shuttleworth and Elon Musk have been a great source of inspiration for Kemp, as they are both very successful South African-born entrepreneurs with a love and passion for space.

It’s hard to say what Nasa does as it is such a multifaceted organisation. Surprisingly though, the recent novel and movie, The Martian, is a good example. The story quite accurately, in my opinion, describes the challenges Nasa faces in space exploration: everything from living in a habitat, growing plants in space and traversing across the Martian surface in a futuristic spacesuit. The work, although technical, is truly fun and exciting.”

What’s next for Kemp? He’s aiming for the stars, quite literally.

“We are probably a decade or less away from putting humans on Mars. However, to answer the larger science questions I believe we need to leave our star, the Sun, and explore the rest of the Universe. Seeing that this isn’t a profit-making venture, for now at least, it will be research institutions and space agencies leading the charge. I would personally like to focus on scientific payloads, and supporting technologies, for interstellar exploration.” — Tiana Cline

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