Afronaut: an astronaut for Africa

Afronaut: Africa has a role to play in human space exploration

Africa is constantly progressing on sciences, technologies and education. This progression could greatly benefit the local development of the space sector.  In turn, the space sector would provide communication, navigation, global monitoring and would drive towards development of the whole continent. They have a role to play in human space exploration.

Afronaut, an African dream - Credits: Cristina De Middel

Afronaut, an African dream – Credits: Cristina De Middel

Afronauts for Africa

So far, three people may deserve the title of Afronaut. First, Patrick Baudry is a French astronaut of CNES (French Space Agency) born in Douala in Cameroun. He flew on Discovery in 1985 for a NASA mission. Second, Mark Shuttleworth is a British-South African entrepreneur, and was the second space tourist. In 2002, he flew on-board of a Soyuz Russian mission and spent 8 days on-board of ISS (International Space Station). He “bought his journey” for almost 20 million US Dollars and had to train for a year mainly in Star city, Russia. Finally, Mandla Maseko is an engineering student from Mabopane in South Africa. He is one of the winners of the global Axe Apollo competition. If he successfully passes his medical tests, he will fly on-board of the Lynx Mark II in 2015. So, fingers crossed for Mandla.

And…that’s it! Actually, Africa doesn’t really have a formal astronaut born, raised, educated, selected and trained by Africa.

Past and present ambitions

In 1964, the Zambian Director of the National Academy of Science, Edward Makuka Nkoloso, came with the ambition to send a human in space. He planned to send one 17 year old girl and two cats to the Moon. Unfortunately, the freshly independent government of Zambia was not ready to support such a space program and Nkoloso never managed to collect enough funding. Today, this Zambian adventure is qualified on the web as “fiction” or “fantasy”. We prefer to believe that this man dared to breach the limits and restrictions for the scientific and technological ambitions of his country. Zambia in space, for sure!

In 2013, the Nigerian Space Agency NASRDA announced they will train one astronaut by 2015. The director general of the agency, Dr. Seidu Mohammed declared:

“The possibility of this has been demonstrated by a lot of research done in the past and we have decided that by 2015, a Nigerian can go to the space and conduct research at the highest level”.

We are now waiting for this afronaut! Full text here.

Currently, only five African countries have developed a solid space program: Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, and South Africa. They have in place policies, laws, investments and scientific programs.

The best way for Africa to prepare regular afronauts will be an African cooperation. At the moment, most of African countries  haven’t yet defined any national policies and programs to develop space industries and sciences. What could be the future of spaceflight in Africa?

The global situation of space in Africa is described in the Geoffrey Onyango’s article on the African Sciences News website.

Because we are all Born For Space !

41st anniversary of the Last Moon Walk

On December 14th, 1972 at 05:40:56 GMT: a human left the last footprint of mankind on the Moon…

The last mission on the Moon 

Apollo 17 - Credits NASA

Apollo 17 – Credits NASA

December 7th 1972, Apollo XVII was launched from the Kennedy Space Center with a Saturn V and three men on-board. This mission marked the last time humans landed on the Moon. The crew was composed of: Eugene A. Cernan, commander, Ronald E. Evans, the command module pilot and, Harrison H. Schmitt, the lunar module pilot and. E.Cernan and H.Schmitt landed on the Moon on December 11th. They performed 3 space walks outside of the Lunar Module which had a total duration of 22 hours and 4 minutes.  The mission included a Lunar Roving Vehicle which allowed them to cross a massive 30 km of the Lunar Surface. This mission was the last one which sent humans to the Moon and the most interesting for science. H. Schmitt was the geologist on the mission and they collected 110 kg of Moon rocks.

The Lunar module lift off was on December 14th. Eugene Cernan is officially the last man to leave a footprint on the Moon. This was 41 years ago. Nobody has achieved such a feat since this time.

More about the Apollo program here.

Why has nobody walked on the Moon for 41 years?

In 1970, NASA cancelled the last mission of Apollo due to budgetary restraints. Since then, scientists have not stopped dreaming about space. Many great developments took place after Apollo 17 Including the International Space Station (ISS) which is now permanently occupied by astronauts. Nevertheless, no person has been beyond low Earth orbit since Apollo 17.

Going to the Moon still remains a very high technological challenge but the main problem is the expense of such a mission.

Apollo 17 - Lunar Roving Vehicle - Credits NASA

Apollo 17 – Lunar Roving Vehicle – Credits NASA

Due to a lack of political will, some private organizations have popped-up with their own plans to reach the Moon with a crewed spacecraft such as Golden Spike Company. Their main challenge is the huge financial burden. Many scientists and politicians do not rank exploration of the Moon as a priority.

Eugene Cernan - The last man on the Moon - Credits RNASA

Eugene Cernan – Credits RNASA

“Too many years have passed for me to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon. I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl with indomitable will and courage who will lift that dubious distinction from my shoulders and take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance.” – Captain Eugene A. Cernan