On Africa's potential as a player in space exploration

Monday, August 24, 2009

One subject I often write about here is how developing countries can contribute to astronomy and space exploration, and a post here from June has some good information on just how far along certain countries are. An article here from spaceref.com today also goes into the subject a bit, though with a focus on space exploration instead of astronomy.

The African countries that are most into space exploration at the moment are South Africa and Nigeria. South Africa as a country though is outshined by two of its citizens in private enterprise: Mark Shuttleworth and Elon Musk. Elon Musk by himself probably contributes as much to space exploration as the rest of the continent.

Back to Nigeria: they are planning to send a man to space by 2016. Countries spending money on sending their first people to space is usually not all that wise an expenditure compared to using the money for something else like constructing observatories and educating the next generation of astronomers, but Nigeria is probably an exception there given its huge population (150 million) and lack of national unity. Countries with smaller populations and good national unity certainly enjoy seeing their people go into space, but they are unified and stable enough without it, and any effects of seeing one of their citizens in space is spread out among a much smaller population. Nigeria is the opposite of this.

The danger in this of course is that if government is too corrupt and/or unpopular, a move like this just gets seen as a frivolous expenditure and could easily backfire, if the government is seen as being too involved in all the fanfare. Nobody in Iran at the moment for example would be impressed by Iran sending a man into space (an Iranian woman has already been to space BTW) if it involved a lot of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei next to the astronaut and a bunch of bluster about making a strong Iran to scare its enemies, but if they kept their distance and the astronaut was allowed to simply talk about space and science and bringing up a new generation of citizens interested in space then the people wouldn't mind. That's a pro-tip for those of you working in the government in Nigeria. Bookmark this page if that's you.


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