Rights: University of Waikato Published 27 March 2013 Download

Kelvin Barnsdale explains how his hobby of building electronics that could survive in very strange environments lead to a career involving NASA. He provides ideas on how students can get involved in electronics.

Points of interest:

  • Spacelab was a series of laboratories used on 24 Space Shuttle missions.
  • Many of the experiments involved research into microgravity.


My role when I was working in the UK was a design engineer for electronics, and I designed many of the systems that go onto satellites. Most of our spacecraft were launched by NASA. I was working on a programme called Spacelab 2, where the experiments were fitted into the back of the Space Shuttle, so we had lots and lots of preparation working with NASA to make sure that our experiment worked with the Space Shuttle properly.

The Spacelab 2 project was where we built an experiment called CHASE, which is the Coronal Helium Abundance Spacelab Experiment. That was an instrument that scanned the Sun, and from this, we could tell ultimately what the ratio of helium to hydrogen was in the corona of the Sun. I was involved with the electronics behind all that – collecting the data from the sensors, gathering up, storing it and then sending it onto the Spacelab computers for transmission to the ground.

I guess I’ve always had a passion for building things with my hands, but strangely I’ve always had a passion for building things that can survive in difficult environments. I remember when I was 9 or 10 years old, I would build bits of electronics that could survive in very strange environments – I would for instance bury them – and that could carry on working.

So students in New Zealand today, if they’re interested in working in the high-tech industry of electronics and computers, there’s many opportunities. New Zealand is a rugged country itself, and it requires lots of technology out there to monitor our environment.

Of course, there are the aeronautical industry and there’s unmanned aerial vehicles. There’s lots of work in rocketry, and of course then you can take those skills abroad to use in the space industries.

Younger students can pursue their interests in electronics at quite an early age. They can build electronic kits at home, and they can buy them in the shops. Just keep going with a hobby of electronics. You can always ask people to help you – your teachers or find some other kids that have got the same ideas the same interests, start a club. Make sure that you follow your interests as a hobby.