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

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    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.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora