Space-age safety message

Dave Owen is glad to be back behind the multi-screened console at his Te Awamutu Space Centre after a brush with Covid.

A close brush with Covid-19 has turned Kihikihi’s Dave Owen – better known as ‘Space Dave’ – into a vocal champion of Covid-19 contact tracing.

Dave owns the Te Awamutu Space Centre in the heart of Kihikihi.  A mid-January holiday to Northland saw the Owen family cross paths with the first of the Pullman Hotel returnees who tested positive for Covid-19.

“We visited the Kauri Museum and discovered later we were there at the same time as the woman who had tested positive,” said Dave.  “That was at the start of our holiday, so we just went on our way… information about the risk came out only after we got home.

“I immediately checked her timeline on the government Healthline website and tracked it against my own. I could compare our movements exactly because we had been fastidious about using the Covid app, particularly while we were away, and thankfully, so had she.  Within minutes of having discovered we were at the same place at the same time, I received an alert on my phone from the ministry advising me that we had been exposed and that we should stay home and arrange for a test to be done.”

The family contacted the Te Awamutu Medical Centre and were tested the next morning.  “The medical centre staff were fantastic. Everything was done by people in full protective gear, in a side carpark.”

The results came in negative about 24 hours later, with the advisory that the family was in the clear and could resume normal life.
Opting for a cautious approach to the incident, Dave closed the Space Centre until January 30, and arranged to have his mum man the desk there until he returned on February 1.  Messages posted on the Centre’s website and the Te Awamutu regional grapevine kept the public informed.

Dave’s Space Centre has been growing in popularity since the lifelong fan of all things cosmic moved his collection from his garage to its current location in 2015. The exhibits include information displays, space-related artefacts and memorabilia, interactive displays, games and puzzles, virtual reality, and a shop with everything from space jigsaws to a range of telescopes.

Rich with information, it is geared to all ages of fans.

Group tours are a mainstay of the operation, an element that Dave successfully moved online during Covid and has now expanded to include regular sessions with groups in the United Kingdom, the United States, other European countries and the United Arab Emirates.

“An interest in space is less geeky these days, more mainstream,” he said, “and there is a lot going on in terms of space exploration.”

Grateful to be back on board, Dave urged people to be mindful of contact tracing.

“My message to everyone is to observe all the protocols and be strict about either using the app wherever they go, or writing their information down.  The system works really well if it’s used properly.”

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