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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs