Both are extremely interesting and worth of supporting, but the latter touches me personally very much. I’ll tell why.
I’ve been travelling quite a lot, but my fist visit to Africa was in 2011 to the International Astronautical Congress in Cape Town. I had in my mind the stereotypical view of South Africa with wonderful landscapes and separated society with protected areas and violence lurking behind every corner elsewhere.
First surprise was at the Johannesburg’s airport, where I saw huge “We’re ready for SKA” text painted on one of the airplanes on tarmac. SKA is the Square Kilometre Array, huge radio telescope project that was seeking a place from South Africa or Australia. A country with astronomical texts written on normal airliners can’t be so bad!
After that everything was a chain of pleasant surprises: smiling people, nice flight to Cape Town aboard SAA’s A340-600 and transfer to hotel by joking driver. Great hotel, welcoming staff and super cute surroundings!
The congress itself was great and I left my heart to the host city. Therefore, when I had a possibility, I returned there in 2012 for six weeks. I stayed at the beautiful Cape Town Observatory working for SALT and finishing my book about the planetary probes. In addition to staff astronomers, I met the people working for the observatory - guardians, cleaners, office personnel, telescope operators and so on - and other people outside the protected fences of the Observatory.
I think I learned little bit more about the South African society, and southern parts of Africa in general. The reality was somewhere in between my original gloomy views and rosy new experiences. And instead on one truth, there were a lots of truths.
The most interesting experience was still to come. There was a IAU’s Summer School with mostly young participants from Africa at the observatory, and even if I didn’t have anything to do with it, I had a change to observe and chat with these people. Coming from Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Nigeria and other countries, they were not only deeply interested in space, but also felt that science is the only way ahead towards better Africa.
Doing science and developing new technology is important, but the most important is that education is changing the society at large. At least for these summer school participants and their families studying was life-changing. If also other young people have something interesting to do instead of just hanging around and fighting, the whole way of living can change. They just need dreams that are not only challenging, but also possible to achieve.
Africa2moon is just perfect dream. We all can see Moon on the sky and many of us would like to see it better, perhaps fly around it and look down to it’s strange surface with smooth seas and cliffy craters. And admire the blue Earth raising to the pitch-black sky above the grey lunar horizon.
Views like these, astronomy and spaceflight can inspire the young people to study science and technology in general, just like is happening here in Europe.
When I learned fist time about the Africa2moon project, I saw in my mind two different views from the Cape: the young African astronomers from the astronomy summer school and the other youngsters hanging around Woodstock. Two extremites, one without a dream and other with one. Africa2moon can be a great way to drag at least some of the young people without future to think about getting education and going ahead.
Just like some of the Observatory staff, who were from Townships with questionable reputation, told constantly how only education can change South Africa – and how it is already changing it.
Of course Cape Town is just a special part of South Africa, and South Africa is only a small part of the whole Africa, but they can lead the way. It is the best starting point with best possibilities for the mission like Africa2moon, but the project is for Africa in general.
About half of Africans are younger than 19 years. They need a future. Africa is big, rich and young continent with optimistic and happy people, but also slightly lost in poverty, wars, diseases and painful history. It needs now a vision and inspiration.
I think supporting the Africa2moon is the one of the best ways to support Africa; development aid that helps Africans to help themselves. It paves the way to better future.
The project itself is also very down-to-earth. Building and sending a small probe to orbit around the Moon is challenging, but not too difficult. The main mission, taking photos and doing simple science measurements or observations, is also interesting for general public and science community. Involving the people and scientists for a mission like this is very important, and when thinking the general level of the African research, it’s better to focus on something straightforward and feasible.
If the Africa2moon is a success, it can be followed by more advanced spacecraft with more ambitious mission profile. And if it doesn’t even lift off, it can do a lot by bringing people together and think about flying to the Moon.
So, please go to fund.africa2moon.developspacesa.org and donate!