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Nigeria Becomes Africa's 3rd Country to Enter Space Age

Nigeria has become the third African country to join the space age. A Nigerian satellite was launched Saturday on a Russian rocket.

Images of the blast-off at the Russian Cosmodrome were carried live on Nigerian television. The Kosmos-3M booster rocket, carrying Nigeria's first satellite, Nigeria-Sat-1, was originally scheduled for launch Friday, but was postponed one day for technical reasons.

Launched from Plesetsk in northern Russia, the project draws on international experience and expertise, but will be managed by 15 specially trained Nigerian scientists in a ground station in the capital Abuja.

Science and Technology Minister Turner Isoun said the satellite will be used to map Nigerian territory and to monitor the impacts of population growth, as well deforestation and water resources.

The project has been both criticized and praised by the national media.

It is seen as a prestige project for President Olusegun Obasanjo and his government, and welcomed by many who see it as using modern technology to overcome some of Nigeria's many problems.

On the other hand, it is criticized as a frivolous expenditure of $13 million in a nation where more than half the population lives in abject poverty.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous country, with 126 million people. It becomes the third African state to have a satellite. The other two are South Africa and Algeria.

The satellite was one of six propelled into space on the same rocket. All six are part of an international project called the "Disaster Monitoring Constellation." Though owned and operated by Nigeria, the satellite will be used to share information about disaster monitoring when needed.