Africa has the “youngest” population in the world, with 50 percent of its population being 19 years old and younger. Moreover, it is a continent that is rapidly growing; in fact, Africa is home to 7 of the 10 world’s fastest growing economies. As Africa continues to advance, scores of innovators and entrepreneurs are emerging with hopes of contributing to Africa. However, it is still unfortunate that most African graduates still prefer to live abroad.
The high emigration rates of Africa’s highly educated individuals such as doctors, engineers, scientists, is a point of concern for the future development of Africa. As a result, part of the goal for the Africa2Moon mission, Africa’s first mission to the moon, is to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. Despite the project’s noble aspirations, it has experienced several setbacks and very little support from Africans.
Since, the project is only in its initial phase, there are not a lot of specifics on the project. Nonetheless, the Africa2Moon project ultimate plan, which could take over ten years, is to build a robotic craft, send it either on the moon’s surface or in orbit around it, and then transmit (video) pictures back to earth. The pictures will beam to classrooms all over Africa via the internet. Although the non-profit foundation (Foundation for Space Development) is based in Cape Town South Africa, it is calling forth all countries in Africa to join in making the project a reality. Besides serving as a platform for scientific research and engineering opportunities; the organizers of the project hope that it will show the world that Africa is not a helpless, scientifically handicap continent as is often portrayed by the media.
The project is divided into three phases, with Phase I already underway. Phase I is planned to run from January to November 2015. Phase I will involve addressing and recruiting students in universities throughout Africa as well as raising money. Through crowdfunding and a social media campaign (Twitter hashtag #Africa2Moon) the project is hoping to raise a minimum of $150,000 (KES 14 million) for Phase I. So far, crowdfunding has raised a mere $12,744 (KES 1 million) since 19 November 2014. In addition to inspiring young minds, the project aims to promote four fields in the education sector, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Thus, Africa2Moon mission has promised to commit 25% of all its funds they raise towards STEM education through a series of workshops directed at educators and students. Phase II of the project will involve the preparation of a feasibility study, where mission planners and an engineering team will decide on what will be needed to complete the project.
The middle class in sub-Saharan Africa is expanding rapidly and with it the rise of technology. There is now an unimaginable growth of mobile phones, greater access to internet and increased innovative projects. In fact, the importance of space-technology-based data and reliable geospatial information for development in Africa was recognized during the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012. Still, space exploration and exploitation is still a matter that doesn’t take precedence while it holds a lot of potential for Africa’s development. Only Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa have launched and operated satellites. Compared to other nations, African countries have still not fully tapped into space technology and its applications.
However, despite Africa2Moon potential benefits, the project has suffered from heavy criticism as well as lack of participation. Whereas funding for the Africa2Moon project is proceeding along very slowly, the private British moon project, the Lunar Mission One, also launched a funding campaign through internet crowdfunding and raised nearly a million dollars ahead of its deadline, in December? Many Africans do not see space exploration as a priority. Africa is shrouded with disease, war, famine, inefficiency in governance, and frankly, for a typical Africa, what is the point of going to the moon if we can’t even solve problems on the ground. However, just because Africa suffers from a few issues does it mean that such bold projects as Africa2Moon shouldn’t pursued.
Like most countries in Africa, Kenya suffers from brain drain with many Kenyans trained in space technology leaving to work in countries with established space agencies, like NASA. Thus developing a space sector in Kenya is not just for national development but also to provide an opportunity for Kenyan engineers and scientists to tackle ambitious technological initiatives. Although the Kenya Parliament passed a motion calling for the creation of a space sector for the country in 2011, not a lot has been done to follow through. The benefits of an established space sector for Kenya’s economic and social sectors could be profound. Launching a satellite in space would help in several key areas such the environment, business, security and education divisions. From locating terrorists, to monitoring climate change, a satellite in space could offer profound change. Launching a satellite in space is just the tip of the iceberg in space technology and if Kenya was to tap into this field, the potential benefits are endless.
Kenya is already a technology hub; the country established the world-first mobile money transfer system. It has also set up institutions for technological advancement like iHub. Still, expanding its program like Nigeria or South Africa would be an important step in achieving its vision of becoming a middle-income country by 2030. Nevertheless, as much as a space program is needed in Kenya, great engineers are also mandatory if such a project is ever to be undertaken. The caliber of engineering education needs to be upgraded, and more emphasis should be placed on training institutions and research universities. Investing in new research institutions and universities and encouraging interest in the sciences is important in furthering Kenya’s technological advancement.
The Africa2Moon is all about the future, creating inspiration. Frankly, there are very few projects on space technology and Africa shouldn’t wait until it has resolved all its problems to purse space exploration. Other countries have taken steps in launching satellites, honing astronauts and the like.
Space exploration should not be another area of science that Africa gets left behind by decades. Projects in South Africa like the multi-nation Square Kilometer Array Radio telescope (SKA), the world’s biggest telescope, that will investigate the Big Bang, look at black holes and uncover new frontiers and the like portrays that there are those who believe that there is a future in space and that Africa can be part of that future. Nine countries in Africa including South Africa will be involved in the Square Kilometer Array, including; Ghana, Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, Madagascar, Zambia, Mozambique and Mauritius. The organizers of Africa2Moon note that even if they do not manage to get the necessary funds, they will continue with the project, one way or another.
The Africa2Moon Mission Program is necessary to encourage engineers, scientists, scholars and others, that Africa is also a land of opportunity and science. Currently, Africa2Moon project is recruiting international scientists and engineers to help with Phase I of the mission. Africa is still far from developing a NASA; however, projects like Africa2Moon demonstrate that it is possible for Kenya and Africa in general to reach for the moon.