The tech savvy 12-year-old uses a phone app that detects the course of the space station as it hurtles through space, he says, at a warp speed of 7.65 kilometres per second, or an even more mindboggling 27,605km an hour.
He exclaims looking down at his phone, “Right now it’s travelling over Africa.”
But, on Monday evening he didn’t need to use the app to see where the space station was, as just on dusk it was passing directly over the veranda of his family’s home, high on the hill in Akaoa.
“That’s where I saw it,” he says, pointing high to the southwest. “It was very bright and flying directly in line of the Cook Islands.”
He says for anyone else wanting to sneak a peek at the space station: “It looks like a star, but is fast-travelling like a satellite, only brighter, and passes over us three times a day.”
He also uses another app, International Space Station HD Live, which gives a camera view from the space station, as well as trying to take snaps of it himself on his phone on clear nights.
It’s not only the space station that passes overhead he says, but also a Chinese space station called Tia Gong. He sometimes spots old satellites in orbit floating around earth’s atmosphere, and says you can track those too.
For other kids not already interested in astronomy Tai says, “It’s a fun thing to do as a hobby; you can do it at home. You can map out the stars from books… you can look at planets, satellites, constellations, comets, but mainly stars.
“So if you are a kid at home and you want to learn about astronomy, you can do it anytime...”
Talking to Tai, it becomes obvious how passionate this intelligent young man is about all things space.
He says he first got interested in astronomy using an old mini-telescope and following astronauts in space online. Learning new things about astronomy, he adds, inspires him to learn more.
Eraio says he loves watching Stephen Hawking documentaries and Discovery Science on TV and says the theoretical physicist and cosmologist is his idol.
So it’s not surprising that this year 8 student from Apii Nikao also has big plans for his future… working at NASA.
“My dream is to work for NASA. I want to go to Australia to get a good education and go to university… I was then thinking of one day going to America so I can get into the space programme, and go up there.”
Dad Stephen says Tai’s been into science from a young age.
“He’s right into the deep space black whole theory. It’s a bit beyond my capability,” he says with a smile. “But we encourage him as much as we can.”
When NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle was on the island in May to visit local schools, Tai missed out on her talk.
But while the astronaut didn’t visit Apii Nikao, Tai’s Mum Roberta wasn’t going to miss the opportunity when she spotted Cagle in the Air New Zealand lounge at Rarotonga International Airport.
She told the NASA-trained astronaut and retired medical doctor that she had someone on the line that would love to speak to her, after phoning Tai on his mobile so they could have a good old chat about space and the international space station.
And while most of us can only dream of going into space, Eraio is setting himself up as best he can from a young age to make his dream a future reality. – Chris Taylor