News / Science & Technology

    Uganda’s One-Man Space Program Sparks Cosmic Dreams

    Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi inspects Chris Nsamba's space probe in March, 2013. (Photo: African Space Research Program)
    Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi inspects Chris Nsamba's space probe in March, 2013. (Photo: African Space Research Program)
    As Ghana grabbed headlines with its first tiny satellite in May, one determined scientist in Uganda is working hard to get his country into the space race as well. But Chris Nsamba is facing more than just technical challenges.
     
    Lawrence Okello could tell that something unusual was going on. But when he first ventured over to his neighbor’s backyard in Kampala, Uganda, he could hardly believe his eyes.
     
    “I was so shocked. I couldn’t believe that in Uganda, we can have a kind of achievement so impressive,” he said.
     
    Okello’s neighbor, Chris Nsamba, is head of the African Space Research Program, an organization he founded in 2009 after studying astronomy in the United States. But armed with nothing more than a team of student volunteers, and working from his mother’s backyard, the 28-year-old Nsamba has set out to build and launch Uganda’s first space observer.
     
    Chris Nsamba and his team work on their projects in his mother's backyard. (Photo: African Space Research Program)
    Chris Nsamba and his team work on their projects in his mother's backyard. (Photo: African Space Research Program)
    Neighbors like Okello have been eagerly watching the probe take shape.
     
    “There is a small project I saw him making. He called it a space observer," he said. "I heard him saying it’s going to capture a picture of Uganda from space. He showed me that it’s going to work. I saw it responding to the GPS. They are just preparing to launch it, but I know it will fly. It will fly.”
     
    About the size and shape of a beach ball, the probe is equipped with solar panels and a camera. On its maiden voyage, Nsamba plans to send it up with a passenger as well - a live rat.
     
    “The reason why we called it observer is because it has a camera on it, so it can take pictures and videos, and it can send live data back to our control center. So it can observe space," he said. "Two, we are using it to check out our skills of keeping something alive in space.”
     
    Aside from a grant from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Nsamba and his team have had to rely entirely on private donations from well-wishers in Uganda and abroad.  Nsamba says he also doesn’t have a technical team to assist with the finer points of aerospace engineering.
     
    “I developed it myself. No one is involved, just me." he said. "The other people are my students. I’m training them on how to develop such projects. However, they are students, they are still learning. I don’t acquire any skills from them. They are the ones acquiring skills from me.”
     
    The launch itself would involve a helium weather balloon to carry the probe up to 120,000 feet, at which point thrusters would kick in.
     
    Nsamba claims he and his team have been working up to 18 hours a day on the project. And, he says, the probe is functional, and thrusters have been tested and the rocket fuel is ready. The Ugandan president has even given permission to launch the observer, Nsamba says, but wants to inspect it himself first.
     
    It is a far cry from NASA.  But despite skepticism in the international media, many Ugandans see potential in Nsamba’s passion, and take pride in having a space program of their own.
     
    Professor Florence D’ujanga, head of the physics department at Kampala’s Makarere University, thinks Nsamba’s efforts should not be dismissed.
     
    “Scientists start like that usually, and people usually push them off," D’ujanga said. "They usually started small. Like Newton was looking for the apple, the falling of the apple, and then gravity. And I’m sure at that time, when he talked about it, people sort of brushed it aside. So with this young man, I think we better give him a chance.”
     
    For science to develop, she says, you have to start somewhere.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Sadick Sessah-Odai from: Assin Foso-Ghana
    July 26, 2013 3:11 PM
    is a good and great idea.i wish the needed support and requisite that he needs should be giving to him.my problem is that we Africans don't support someone even if they are making something
    is a nice creativity for the benefit of Africans

    by: James Tascione from: Mojave
    July 26, 2013 12:34 PM
    It's great to see others follow a passion.Good job.I build human powered aircraft solo and i can understand what a large undermanned project feels like.Keep up the progress!!

    by: Adam Brinckerhoff from: Broomfield, CO
    July 22, 2013 6:01 PM
    It's awesome to see citizens from developing countries get seriously involved in space exploration. Join SpaceUnited, and help us get everyone in the world exploring too!

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora