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Michael Kapteyn has gone from West Auckland to out of this world – literally

It is the stuff seen in movies - astronauts, new space technologies and yet-to-be-seen inventions set to change the world but it's this young kiwi's reality.


By: Vaimoana Tapaleao

Kiwi Michael Kapteyn, 22, has graduated as a master of science in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Photo / MIT

It is the stuff seen in movies – astronauts, new space technologies and yet-to-be-seen inventions set to change the world.

But for one young Kiwi that is very much a part of his reality.

“A lot of my friends have worked at Nasa and we have professors in my department who are astronauts,” says Michael Kapteyn.

The West Aucklander has graduated with a master of science degree in aeronautics and astronautics from one of the world’s top universities, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The former Kelston Boys High student has spent the past few years studying in the United States after gaining a bachelor of engineering, in engineering science and with first-class honours, from the University of Auckland.

He is 22 years old.

“Yeah, I sort of went through school real quick,” he laughed.

Kapteyn is now studying towards his PhD and says although he has always had a strong interest in mathematics and the sciences, he never really knew what he was chasing in life until recently.

“In brainstorming and looking for somewhere to apply the maths and the things that I was interested in, I just happened upon aerospace engineering.

“I was really intrigued by the space technological bubble that we’re in at the moment – the sort of new space race with SpaceX and Rocket Lab, in New Zealand, and all these new companies trying to get to space.”

His interest has somewhat moved away from the space side of things, he says, and there is now a keen interest in autonomous vehicles and specifically the work these unmanned aerial vehicles can do for people around the world.

“I think that’s really interesting and I’ll probably end up doing something that’s kind of at the intersection of new technology and aerospace engineering.”

Kapteyn has a particular interest in humanitarian-type projects involving such technologies; which is seeing medicine being delivered to those in need by autonomous aircraft.

“Like in Africa, they basically have this problem of getting medicine out to rural communities, so they’re now using these self-driving, self-flying aircraft to deliver the medicine,” he said.

“Applications just fall from that and you come up with all these technologies. I bet no one could’ve dreamed of using these self-flying planes to deliver medicine. But once the technology comes, people start to come up with the application after.

“It’s cliched, but that’s sort of how I operate sometimes – you’re thinking of what is inevitable, like it’s inevitable now that all these technologies are going to happen.

“So I might as well be one of the ones who tries to bring it closer.”

Kapteyn’s research adviser, Professor Karen Willcox, also happens to be from West Auckland and is a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the university and the co-director of the MIT Center for Computational Engineering.

Kapteyn acknowledged it was inspiring to see people from the likes of Nasa teaching and working amongst them.

“We have the astronauts walking around the hallways and things, so it’s nice to be in the same building as those people.”

He looked forward to coming home over the next few years to share his story at his old school and hopefully inspire a new generation of explorers.

He said his message to them would be: “The world is a lot bigger than West Auckland and New Zealand.”


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