African moon mission seeks cash for first phase

Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr
Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

A group of African space enthusiasts have taken to the internet to raise money for what they say will be the continent’s first moon mission.

Africa2Moon’s main goal is to send a probe to orbit or land on the moon and beam back video images that will be passed on to African classrooms using the internet. The project aims to use space exploration to encourage young Africans to embrace science careers.

The project, conceived by the South African non-profit Foundation for Space Development, has turned to the crowdfunding website CauseVox to help finance the mission’s first phase up to November next year.

During this initial phase, the Foundation says work will be done to develop the final mission concept, carry out an associated feasibility study and hold outreach events.

Since fundraising began on 25 November, the project has brought in more than US$12,700  of the US$150,000 the Foundation hopes to raise by the end of January.

“Advancing an ambitious space project can contribute to getting more people that can join our industry.”

Sias Mostert, Space Advisory Company

“The main driver behind this mission is inspiring the youth of Africa to believe that space exploration … is not something that is the exclusive preserve of the most advanced countries,” Peter Martinez, the Foundation’s founding director tells SciDev.Net.

One in every nine African science graduates leaves the continent for jobs overseas, and most space science projects take place outside Africa, says Jonathan Weltman, the Foundation’s chief executive.

An African-sponsored space mission might be an incentive for scientists to stay on the continent and contribute to scientific expertise and infrastructure, Weltman tells SciDev.Net.

“The aspiration of any engineer or scientist is to try and reach the pinnacle of their field by working on the most important projects with the most recognised colleagues,” he says.

Sias Mostert is an executive at South African satellite program and systems engineering firm the Space Advisory Company. He donated US$1,000 to the Africa2Moon project, and sees the mission as a way to provoke interest in space and ensure that Africa can build the satellites and other infrastructure needed to boost development of information and communications technologies (ICTs).

“To roll out ICT infrastructure in Africa, space is the only quick solution,” Mostert tells SciDev.Net. “We also need great employees that are inspired, motivated and highly educated. Advancing an ambitious space project can contribute to getting more people that can join our industry.”

Peter M. B. Waswa, a Kenyan space engineer whose blog, spacekenya.org, advocates government-sponsored space exploration, says that crowdfunding is best for projects that the public can easily understand and get excited about. But it may be less suited to funding research projects or for building a significant space programme, he adds.

“Crowdfunding is not a viable option if you are interested in adopting space technology for sustainable national development aimed at improving the lives of ordinary citizens,” Waswa says.

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