i initiative

Space and Development…Increasing Access to Space in Africa

African Missions to the Moon and Mars

Posted by Simon Adebola on May 4, 2009

Following up on the glad events of the last African Conference on the Mission to Mars, we are bringing today from a standpoint closer to home, views on how to get involved in efforts to bring an African payload to the moon. The 21st century race to the moon has already begun and the last is yet to be heard of who is going to the moon next. Strengthening this expanded view of lunar exploration is the rise in interest from private and commercial space participants. At the forefront of this is the XPrize Foundation which have, in collaboration with Google launched the Google Lunar Xprize (GLXP) which is a 30million dollar prize for the first privately funded team to make it to the moon with a robot which would then travel 500 meters and send video, images and data back to the earth. There are also additional prizes for the team whose payload can accomplish certain defined tasks. It is clear that Africans can complete equally in this. We have some of the best scientific and technological minds in the world. It is not a season to watch and wait.

There is no telling what this is doing to the science of space and lunar exploration. Kids, students, scientists, techies and geeks from all over the world are all combining forces to accomplish these goals. It is amazing how much interest and innovation has been plowed into these efforts and how much more is still underway. In this interview with William Pomerantz, the Senior Director of Space Projects at the X Prize Foundation and who also runs the GLXP, he answers questions on how Africans can get involved in this great opportunity to showcase the uniqueness and brightness of African technological potential. He also talks about the opportunities from the newly launched Healthcare X Prize.

Q: How many African countries have registered teams?

A: We do not yet have any registered teams that are headquartered in Africa. However, we do have members of registered teams who live and work in Egypt and in South Africa.

Q: How many are following up on their registrations?
A: We have not yet had any teams headquartered in Africa file a “Letter of Intent to Compete” or a registration package for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. However, we have heard from a total of about 50 potential teams based in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe. We certainly hope to hear more from Africa in the future, and would be thrilled to get our first ever African X PRIZE team!

Q: What are your thoughts on how you think African engineers can take part in these?

A: One of the nicest things about incentive prizes, including the Google Lunar X PRIZE, is that they attract intelligent solutions from the widest possible range of potential inventors and problems solvers. A prize does not care what your nationality is, what field you have your degree in, or what your CV or university transcript says—the prize only cares about the results. To date, the talent pool of very bright African engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs has been mostly untapped by the traditional aerospace community. We certainly hope that this prize will help change that, and will allow these individuals to demonstrate their capabilities on the global stage.

Similarly, we hope that educators and parents across all of Africa will be able use this prize and the stories of the competing teams as a tool to get young students excited about the possibility of entering careers in aerospace related fields or, more broadly, in careers in science, technology, engineering, and maths. Increasing the numbers of young Africans who chose to dedicate their lives to the pursuit of such careers will have an enormously beneficial impact on Africa—and on the industries that benefit from such an influx of talent.

Finally, we hope that regardless of the nationality of the eventual winners of the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a variety of African countries and companies will be able to take advantage of the new, radically cheaper lunar exploration opportunities provided by the teams competing for the prize. Whereas the cost of lunar exploration to date has made it simply too expensive for most countries in the world (much less most private companies or universities), in the near future, prices will have come down dramatically, putting them on par with a wide range of other scientific companies. We look forward to the day when we all watch the first African-designed payload land on the lunar surface, probably carried by a private vessel designed by a Google Lunar X PRIZE team.

Q: I would also like to know if the Healthcare XPrize is open to international participation?

A: Yes, it is planned that the forthcoming Healthcare X PRIZE will be open to international participation.

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