A student's 25-year plan to reach the stars

Sitting inside the cold metal of an aircraft simulator, illuminated by the light of the Boeing Research & Technology Centre — Australia sign, engineering student David Corporal explains how each apparatus contributes to achieving flight.

As he speaks, the peaks and troughs of his voice increase with his excitement — like the ripples that travel through air in anticipation of a jet taking off.

While independent flight is still a long way off for this aspiring astronaut, he is nearing completion of the first major milestone — graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mechanical Engineering) from The University of Queensland (UQ).

“Space exploration offers immense value to humankind, not only through the discovery of resources, materials and medicines, but in the scientific discoveries that underpin spaceflight,” he said.

“To be one of the few people to be physically involved in these initiatives would be a great privilege.”

It was by the blue light of a computer screen that David first discovered his dream to become an astronaut after coming across a video of then-commander of the International Space Station Chris Hadfield.

“I discovered that it takes about 25-years for someone to become an astronaut,” he said.

“So I sat down and developed a 25-year plan.”

The gruelling and competitive journey to becoming an astronaut has been successfully completed by only three Australians to date and if successful David would become the first Indigenous Australian to walk this path.

One of the first components of this plan involved earning an engineering Bachelor’s degree from a leading Australian tertiary institution.

However, one of the biggest initial hurdles was being able to juggle work and study commitments to secure the grades he’d need to pursue this path.

Coming from a family who supported his dream but who did not have great means would have ordinarily meant David would need a part-time job to fund his time at university.

“It’s the cost of things like food, transport to university, textbooks and equipment that I needed to account for.”

Through the support of the UQ Arrow Energy and the InspireU scholarship programs David was able to work less during semester so he could focus on his studies.

“I could afford to work less during the academic year,” he said. 

“I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I want to tell you in retrospect what that meant for me.

“By not needing to work as much, I was able to both focus on my studies and get more involved in campus culture through extracurricular activities,” David said.

This involvement led to an internship at Boeing where, among other things, he is working on robotics and programming to develop and test space rovers for his thesis. 

He was also able to take on additional responsibilities as a student representative and delegate on UQ’s Reconciliation Action Plan, and even earnt a place on the UQ Cheer Squad, which came second in nationals last year. 

"All these things paralleled my university studies, and I think, are just as valuable as the engineering skills I learnt,” he said.

“They taught me how to work in diverse groups of people who don’t always see eye to eye,” he said.

David said the opportunities he was afforded by his scholarship have been irreplaceable.

"I was able to participate fully in my studies and these activities because of the support I received through my scholarship.”

“Education is one of the greatest gifts that you can give someone,” he said. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to receive this gift through this university by virtue of the donors who give to help students like me.

“I want to say thank you to these people for nourishing me and the other scholarship recipients.”

In addition to thanking the benefactors of his scholarship, David said it was the love and encouragement of his parents that eased his path to university. 

“I think that the paths we walk in life are paved by the people who came before us - and the path I walk today was laid by the determination, hard work, and sacrifice of my parents.”