Even as a young child growing up on an avocado farm, Toby Fealy has always had his eyes fixed on the limits of outer space.
“I’ve always really enjoyed solving problems – and space represents a place where there’s really, really interesting problems that require really creative solutions,” he said.
It’s been a long-held passion.
“There are home videos of me when I was a kid, building a mini-Saturn V rocket out of Lego.
“We were launching water rockets and bicarb rockets that only got about half a metre off the ground!”
All that experimentation has now paid off. Toby recently strapped himself into an aeroplane rather than a rocket and headed to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, on the grounds of the US Space and Rocket Centre museum near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre.
Toby is the only recipient from regional Australia of the 2023 Astronaut Al Worden Endeavour Scholarship, an international education program that aims to reward aspiring STEM enthusiasts with hands-on astronaut training experience.
For his mum, Jess, seeing Toby go overseas follows years of watching her son’s curiosity.
“Our whole family was very excited and Toby had put a lot of work into his application – but we knew that it would be tough to win a spot.”
“We’d never heard of the scholarship up here in north Queensland,” she said.
“Toby’s always been interested in space, but we were wondering how on earth does a kid from regional or remote Australia get any idea of what the space industry might look like?”
Finding the scholarship was almost an accident, Toby said.
“I found out about the scholarship while looking for work experience. I noticed Space Centre Australia is proposing a launch centre in Weipa on the Cape York Peninsula.
“I emailed them, and while they didn’t have any work experience spots, the CEO James Palmer recommended this scholarship to me,” he said.
Toby will join three other Australian students: Arabella from Brisbane, Elliot from Sydney and Zoe from Launceston, to form Mission Team #10 – Australia.
They will be joined at Space Camp by other teams from the Kingdom of Bahrain, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Beyond the 10-day duration of the camp, Toby is looking to make space his career.
“What I’m looking to get out of Space Camp is an insight into what a career in the space industry could look like.
“This will definitely help give me a tangible example of what to look forward to after school, give me a reason to keep striving through those science and maths subjects.”
He also hopes his experience impacts his remote community in Far North Queensland.
“It’s difficult to get these kinds of opportunities in this region,” he said.
“I think what I’m hoping I can do is show other people who are interested in this kind of stuff that there are opportunities, especially when you’re coming out of school.
“You can actually get into a highly skilled industry like this, become educated and bring those skills back home.”
The Canberra-based Space Centre Australia CEO James Palmer said opportunities like the scholarship could have far-reaching impacts for young people, and students should be encouraged to take them up.
“Space Centre Australia is very proud of Mission Team 10 Australia and especially Toby, being the first student from North Queensland to attend the Endeavour Scholarship Space Camp.
“Space Centre Australia is working to bring together the development of the next generation of space industry professionals for the benefit of the nation in advancing our skills and capabilities in advanced manufacturing, quantum, aerospace, communications, space systems and launch technologies and initiatives such as the Endeavour Scholarship Space Camp are a great way to inspire young people to be a part of these exciting industry sectors.”
Applications are now open for the 2024 Astronaut Al Worden Endeavour Scholarship.