News / Science & Technology

Africa’s Prime View of Space Transforms into Action

A skyward glance on an African night is a look into the center of the Milky Way. The continent is well positioned on earth for a great look at our galaxy.

Africa, as a continent, is not known for its space exploration. It was not a part of the space race of the 1960s.

But these days, astronomy and space programs here have become key parts in teaching us about what is happening beyond our atmosphere.

Kevin Govender, the Director of the Global Office of Astronomy for Development at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town, said Africa is well suited to look into outer space.

"In terms of the continent, the interesting thing about Africa is if you look at the famous night time satellite view of the earth you find these bright lights in the U.S. and Europe and you find across Africa it is a very dark continent. That darkness is also something that gives people better access to the night sky. The African continent still offers places that people can go to, to appreciate the night sky in a way our ancestors did; in a way to appreciate our place in the universe," said Govender.

A decade from now, South Africa - along with Australia - will be providing the fastest, clearest and largest view of space that humans have ever had through the Square Kilometer Array - a radio telescope with a collecting area of one square kilometer. It will be able to survey the skies 10,000 times faster than any instrument before.

Countries like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Mauritius all have astronomy projects, and some are launching satellites into space. Italy has a launch pad in Kenya and the Ukraine is in discussions to do the same there.

Algeria's space program has helped the country's agriculture industry cope with farming in the environs of the world's hottest desert.

Govender said this is just the beginning. "But I think the message that is becoming very clear is that there are visionary people on the continent who really want to stimulate development within their countries, and they see astronomy as a way of doing that."

Govender listed dozens of major projects across the continent, including Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Namibia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Tanzania.

But not everyone is excited. Some Africans argue spending large sums on space exploration is a travesty on a continent that suffers from astounding poverty.

Govender said the science of space and related programs are exactly what can help lift Africa out of problems of chronic malnutrition and disease by providing new opportunities to develop economic and educational tools.

"If we have a society that can make informed decisions, then we can empower," he said.

Govender pointed to the Internet, one of the biggest technological changes in the last several decades, which was developed through what he terms 'blue sky sciences' - involving space research. Many were skeptical it could benefit Africa with its limited infrastructure. But now Africans are among those benefiting most from Internet and mobile phone technologies.

With South Africa's Square Kilometer Array radio telescope, which currently is in development, Govender said the program will spur huge advancements in data processing capabilities.

"There are no existing systems that can handle that quantity of data. Yet we are in a global economy, in a world that basically lives off data. The data that we can use for earth information systems, for agriculture, information about education… this investment in astronomy is going to push technology to be able to handle that information,” said Govender.

Along with development, exploration and education, he sees another global benefit.

"Engaging with the night sky is a very deep experience, and very important philosophically. What does the moon see? When we think about where we are in the universe, and what the earth looks like. From that view, there's no country borders, there's no skin color, there's no language differences. It's basically a little blue planet that has life on it. It gives us a message of tolerance and peace," he said.

That is a message Govender hopes to extend throughout Africa.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More