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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid