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

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    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.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora