Megha Wijewardane – Australia’s only junior Ambassador to NASA
Australia’s only Junior Ambassador to NASA, Megha Wijewardane, is of Sri Lankan origin and has been a space and aviation activist for years – and Megha is only nine years old! In 2017, he won the 2017 NASA Space Apps Challenge, competing with students much older than him. In 2018, he faced this challenge again and received the opportunity to research about the asteroid Bennu on the mission OSIRIS-REx. He was also in the ActInSpace challenge where they had to make up a business plan solution for a science and technology business. Megha was the youngest entrepreneur and the youngest team leader. The project was to find a solution to avoiding ghost ships in the ocean, mainly involved in illegal fishing, to exceed their quota. Speaking to The Sunday Morning Little Stars, he said: “After these challenges, I got in touch with NASA and received the opportunity to go for a NASA ambassadorship.”
Tell us more about your NASA ambassadorship.
It took around eight months for the whole process. Finally, after checking my Australian references, I got offered the junior NASA Ambassadorship for Mission OSIRIS-REx, on which I had done a challenge at NASA Space Apps. I was trained by the University of Arizona – LPL (Luna and Planetary Laboratory) where I had to do a test, and I passed with 100%. I participate in ongoing training with LPL and keep up to date with the mission and update what I am doing in Australia. As a NASA Ambassador, I am so excited that now, I have a platform to share my passion. I am excited that I get to share and exchange knowledge about space, science, and aviation. I have the opportunity to go to schools, astronomy clubs, universities, events, space summits, etc. and present my mission OSIRIS-REx. I have the opportunity to access any news about the mission first-hand before it goes public, and I get to do exciting work like mapping Bennu using three cameras built in the OSIRIS-REx satellite. And I hope to travel to other countries for summits and forums too!
How was your experience taking part in these competitions?
All these challenges were mainly open to university students. Everyone who did a valid challenge was at least a teenager and I was just seven years old. Almost all of them were university students or aerospace engineers or in similar fields. There were around 65 participants in each challenge. None of my friends nor schoolmates participated in any of these. The main rule of this challenge was to work on a solution for 24 hours; you were not allowed to go home for 24 hours and you don’t get to sleep. Competitions are never a challenge for me. I have confidence in myself and in my capacity and capability. I go there because I believe that I can give a good fight. When I walk into a challenge, I go with that confidence. However, what could be really challenging is when all the experienced students and professionals look at me and think “oh, he is so cute and amazing”; I’d rather they accept me as one of them.
Tell us more about yourself.
There is a very interesting story about my name. My grandfather from my father’s side is veteran artist Anura Wijewardane. He used to draw a comic called Megha when he was working for Lake House. I was named after it, his most popular comic. My father is Charith Wijewardane and in Sri Lanka, he too worked for Lake House as the Head of Graphics and Layout for the Tharunee and Sarasaviya papers for almost 20 years. My mother is Doshanthri Chamindi Ranatunge and just before migrating, she was the Editorial Business Manager at BT Options. After migrating, both my parents stayed in the field of journalism.
Are you only passionate about space?
No. I play sports too. I am a member of the school chess and cricket teams. I swim well. I am in the future problem-solving team. I am a member of the choir, and a 100 m sprinting champion. I also play musical instruments like the piano, violin, and guitar. I play drums really well. I have never played video games and I advise all my friends not to play video games too. I read a lot, like there’s no tomorrow! Apart from that, I am really passionate about aviation. I even run a YouTube channel called Australian Flight Channel. Because of the knowledge that I self-learnt, Adelaide Flight Training School gave me access to their computer-based training, and I am learning to be a pilot. My goal is to fly solo by gaining my general aviation pilot license when I am 15 and obtain my commercial pilot license when I am 19.
Do you have any advice for our readers?
I love to work hard without wasting my time, so I had a ball at these challenges. However, I ensure I get the necessary amount of sleep on normal days in order to maintain a healthy brain. But if you sleep or waste your time in vain, remember that you are not getting that time back! Also, if you have a dream, never give up on that. Don’t let others wash your dreams away. Work hard until you don’t have to introduce yourself anymore. Don’t try to do what someone else has done already. Do something new. And just be you.
What is your ambition?
My ambition is to be a rocket scientist at NASA. I have wanted that forever and it will be the same in the future as well. However, in between, I would work for the Australian Space Agency as well.