the first african in space
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Executive Summary: African Astronaut to visit ISS in April 2002

Mark Shuttleworth, a South African entrepreneur, has finalized in principle a contract with RosAviaCosmos, the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, to fly as a crewmember on a Soyuz mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2002. Shuttleworth will be the first African citizen in space. Currently in rigorous cosmonaut training at Star City, outside Moscow, Shuttleworth will conduct experiments in collaboration with South African researchers, as well as participating in a national media campaign that draws attention to the global digital divide and the importance of maths and science education.

Shuttleworth commenced his training 3 months ago, and has been engaged in ongoing discussions with RosAviaCosmos since March this year. Commenting from Moscow this morning, Shuttleworth re-iterated the goals of the project.

"We need to inspire African learners of all ages to focus on science, innovation and technology. We need to raise the international profile of the world class science and technology work that is already being done in Africa, and we need to create opportunities for African scientists to explore new frontiers. I hope this project delivers on all those counts. This project is already inspiring school learners in Africa to embrace technology, science and mathematics in their education. We will provide a major boost to the South African National Education Strategy for Science and Mathematics, something of significant long-term importance to South Africa. Our space program management team in Cape Town has already helped launch that strategy and will continue to support the Department of Education directly. The project is also pushing South African science onto the world stage. Several South African teams of scientists have invested time and effort in this unique research programme. I hope that this initiative will also provide a substantial boost to the country's effort to attract students to high technology, and specifically to focus attention on South Africa's budding space technology research program at Houwteq, that is being run by the Department of Communications. And, on the global front, I hope that this is an initiative that will generate substantial positive international coverage for South Africa."

"South Africa has a great role to play in the future of Africa, and space provides a unique platform from which to address some of Africa's challenges, and an opportunity to deliver access to information for all African citizens. We must embrace that opportunity. I hope that this project will inspire people across Africa to reach for their own dreams. Our continent can lift itself up and take its place in the 21st Century, if we set our sights on a common future and work together to make that future a reality. Some would say that high technology and space have no place in a continent that faces the challenges that we do. I believe that Africa is a surprising place, and we should not shy away from bold strides into the forefront of world technology and policy."

The mission to space involves two components: science experimentation and a national media campaign that promotes science and maths education.

Scientific Programme: South African academia rise to the challenge

The Mission Program will include scientific experiments onboard the ISS, which are relevant to, and advance, science in South Africa. Space and microgravity create unique conditions conducive to certain types of experiments that cannot be performed on earth. This is an unprecedented opportunity for Africa - one that until now has been available to the world's wealthiest nations.

Throughout the discussion that led to the signing of the flight contract, a key point was the insistence of the South African team that the mission could go ahead only if South African scientific experiments were conducted during the flight. The South African researchers will work with partners from Russian academic institutions with a wealth of experience in space flight technology and practise.

The opportunity to participate in the science program was presented to the entire South African academic community (a website dedicated to the science experiments can be viewed at Furthermore, an eminent panel of experts has been assembled from the academic fraternity in Africa, to supervise this scientific programme. Luminaries, such as:

  • Prof. Malegapuru Makgoba, President of the South African Medical Research Council of South Africa,
  • Dr. Romilla Maharaj, Executive Director Research Development of the Medical Research council of South Africa,
  • Prof. Tim Noakes, Discovery Health Chair of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Cape Town
  • Prof. Tony Fairall, Professor, Astronomy Department of the University of Cape Town,

head up the team that have assessed submissions from researchers countrywide. Shuttleworth will cover all the costs of the experiments and their coordination with one proviso - the results must be made available in the public domain.

The focal areas of research are:

  1. Biotechnology - to address such diverse fields as disease control (cancer, AIDS), medicine design and testing, environmental care, waste management and quality of life improvement eg. certain cells nurtured in microgravity conditions are three-dimensional and much closer in true size and form to natural tumour cells found in cancer patients, thereby aiding researchers;
  2. Earth Sciences - Space provides a unique platform from which to study the complex interactions of Earth's environment, including pollution, deforestation, agriculture, climatology, global warming, species migration, and other aspects of man's interaction with the planet;
  3. Biomedical and genetic research - the ways in which genetics affect our metabolism;
  4. Technology - the unique properties of space (near-perfect vacuum, microgravity and constant radiation) provide an environment for advanced technological research in materials design, protein crystal production, fluid physics and other cutting edge areas of science.

A brief regarding invitations for submissions of experiments was sent to more than 1000 members of the scientific and academic community throughout Southern Africa. They have met the challenge, with enthusiasm. They are mindful of the fact that many countries have been working to send experiments to the ISS at an enormous expense to their academic communities - South Africa will get this unique opportunity at no cost to the taxpayer. In addition, some of these countries have been queuing for years to have their experiments conducted, and the First African in Space project gives South Africa the opportunity to move straight to the front of the queue.

Shuttleworth and the panel have selected three of these proposals. The Russian Space Agency has also prepared a list of experiments, which will have benefits for South Africa. The final list of experiments to be performed during the mission will be determined by the certification and time constraints set by the Russian Space Agency.

The budget originally set for the Science Programme was R10 Million. As this more than adequately covers the budget for the four successful nominations, the 'First African in Space' (FAIS) team will use the excess funds to further science education programmes that will be of benefit to South Africa.

Through the development and execution of these Programmes, within the overall campaign, we believe that we can meet the goal of inspiring, educating, and helping the broader South African community share in this dream for Africa.

Educational Programme

'Special attention will need to be given to the compelling evidence that the country has a critical shortage of mathematics, science and language teachers, and to the demands of the new information and communication technologies.' (President Thabo Mbeki - 2000)

Mark Shuttleworth is a member of the ICT Council established by President Mbeki, and is fully aware of the challenges facing South Africa. The ability of all learners to succeed in today's technically orientated work environment is increasingly dependent on their understanding of mathematical and computational sciences, and their application in practical situations. This will not occur before these learners have an awareness and appreciation of the benefits of these subjects.

It cannot be stressed enough how important science and mathematics education is for an emerging economy, like South Africa, in this era of globalisation. The First African in Space (FAIS) project will become a valuable vehicle to inspire the youth and increase the awareness and adoption of science and maths education, as a mechanism for achieving one's dreams. It opens a plethora of opportunities with which to create and seek the interest of a nation. The field of space travel is one, which is certain to evoke interest from the youth due to its awe-inspiring nature.

The FAIS team were invited to the most recent meeting of the Executive Management Committee of the National Department of Education, which is responsible for the implementation of the new National Strategy for Maths, Science and Technology Education. This Committee gave its full endorsement for 'First African in Space' team to assist and partner with the Department in executing and implementing their new National Strategy, which was launched in June this year. As part of the National Strategy involves an outreach campaign, it was established that the FAIS team has the necessary strategic, commercial and media skills to significantly increase awareness and enhance the execution of this strategy, through effective branding, promotion and marketing.

A Directory of the 102 Schools, earmarked as beneficiaries of the Education Department's strategic plan, has already been produced by the First African in Space team, intended for use as an initial co-ordination tool in deploying resources and in facilitating communication.

The FAIS team was asked by the Committee to give impetus to the National Strategy by packaging the first part of this Directory, for publication, and to produce a multimedia presentation and a CD ROM.

A significant milestone will be the National Maths and Science Indaba next March, with delegates from 102 schools. Due to the important impact on learners, other initiatives are being developed to target both the teachers and the parents of the learners.

Shuttleworth's commitment to ensuring that the broader South African community benefit from his mission is demonstrated through funding the above initiatives, which are crucial in the rollout of the National Strategy.

Media campaign

The FAIS project has already secured sizeable media exposure (including TV, Radio, Print, Cinema, Outdoor Advertising and Web coverage ) to effectively communicate the importance of maths and science education to the South African populace. In addition, various corporate sponsors will be solicited to participate in the nationwide maths and science educational projects. Notwithstanding the benefits and opportunities that such a project creates, there is a great business case for it, due to the resources that will be generated by the stakeholders involved. These resources can be applied to address the lack of adequate facilities so as to enhance effective learning and teaching.

Read about the experiments.

Landing Countdown to 05:51 05 May

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The Team
Mark Shuttleworth
Dale Cupido
Karen Sharwood
Lara Keytel
Danie Barry
Freddy Khan
Vaughan Oosthuizen
Ravi Naidoo
Vuyo Dwane
Richard Mills
Nicolette Cronje
Wayne Derman
Peter Ribton
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