He never went to university – but now Rocket Lab visionary Peter Beck can call himself a professor.
The Kiwi space industry pioneer, whose company staged its eighth successful launch from Mahia just two weeks ago, was given the title of adjunct professor of aerospace engineering by the University of Auckland today.
The honour formally makes Beck a member of the university's Faculty of Engineering, which he has long involved himself with by working with staff and students.
Beck was never a university student himself – he left school at 17 to take up an apprenticeship with Fisher & Paykel at Mosgiel.
By the time he'd finished there, he'd created a rocket bike, a rocket scooter and a jetpack that powered a pair of roller blades.
There was another formative stint at the former Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, but it was the month he spent travelling around the US that seemed to confirm his destiny; he would help change the way we reached space.
Now, Rocket Lab – domiciled in the US, but keeping a new assembly plant and a 400-strong team in Auckland – is a bonafide, globally recognised player in the world's space scene, with backing from major investors like Lockheed Martin.
It recently launched its eighth Electron rocket - "Look Ma, No Hands" - and to date has delivered 39 small satellites to orbit.
Beck said being named an adjunct professor is "incredibly humbling but at the same time, I can appreciate the irony".
"Studying at university had been my intention from a young age, but I pursued an apprenticeship because I believed the skills I'd gain working hands-on with machinery would make me a better engineer," he said.
"There is no better basis on which to build a career than being eager to always question, learn, and explore new ideas.
"That's what I think is so important about university study: teaching young bright minds how to question, how to explore, and how to innovate. I'm excited to think about what the next generation will uncover, whether that's in space exploration or closer to home exploring their own passions and inspirations."
Faculty dean Professor Nic Smith said the gesture was about recognising someone who had achieved "the status of a professor" in their field.
"Peter has created a lightning rod for space research, opening opportunities for our young people that otherwise wouldn't exist," he said.
"He is a unique talent, has demonstrated a willingness to take a risk and what he has already achieved is both extraordinary and inspiring."