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

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs