Gumboot dancing in South Africa evolved by mineworkers who had to make their own entertainment. This was at last night’s IAF young professionals cocktail party, sponsored by JeanYves Le Gall, chief executive officer of Arianespace and Patrick Schondel, vicepresident of business development at Boeing-NASA.
Happy africa space day!
igeria has beaten South Africa in the African space race, according to delegates to the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), being held on the continent for the first time in its 62-year history. In August, Nigeria sent two more satellites into orbit on the backs of Russian rockets. NigeriaSatX and NigeriaSat-2 are the country’s first satellites to be designed and built to flight standard by local engineers. Earlier Nigerian satellites were outsourced. South Africa, which is hosting the International Astronautical Congress, has only the SumbandilaSat – also designed and built within the country – and it has not been communicating with mission control for three months. Dr Seidu Onailo Mohammed is the director-general of Nigeria’s version of NASA, the 12-year-old National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA). He is driving the Nigerian bid to dominate African airspace, dating from its first launch of an earth-observation satellite in 2003, telling media, “we want to assess problems that have devastated this land.” Mohammed’s family was too poor to buy a television when American astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. Instead, aged nine, Mohammed heard it all on the radio. As part of Nigeria’s ambitious space programme,
he attended the African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development, in Mombasa, Kenya, last week. Decisions from the African Leadership Conference will shape announcements on Africa Space Day, to be made later this evening. Mohammed is one of seven participants in the African Space Leaders roundtable discussion which will be held tonight. There he will come face to face with his main competitors, including Sandile Malinga, the chief executive officer of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA). Many of the African space researchers at the roundtable discussion come from the Frenchspeaking north of the continent, such as Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. They include Azzedine Oussedik from the Algerian Space Agency, Mohamed El Bachir Chok from Tunisia’s National Mapping and Remote Sensing Center, and Driss El Hadani from Morocco’s Royal Centre for Remote Sensing. The roundtable will be moderated by civil engineer Johann-Dietrich Woerner, chairman of the board of the German Aerospace Centre (Deutschen Zentrums für Luft- und Raumfahrt or DLR). Harry Kaane, the secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology and former engineering lecturer at Moi University, will also be attending the roundtable.
satellites are in it for the long haul
atellites will help air crews to diagnose passengers who fall ill in-flight, according to a speaker on Saturday’s joint UN/IAF session on using space to improve human health. Lufthansa flights are already making use of the space technology, said Amnon Ginati, the head of integrated telecommunications at the European Space Agency (ESA). The airline works with doctors from the Charité, one of the largest university hospitals in Europe, located in Berlin. Air hostesses who assess the passenger’s symptoms can use the satellite communications link to pass the information to doctors on land, who will offer a diagnosis. Ginati said the goal is to reduce the number of passengers who die aboard flights. About 700 to 1,000 people die on flights every year, Ginati said in the workshop, held in Cape Town, South Africa. “This helps the captain to make decisions. He can decide to give patients tablets, or land, depending on the diagno-
sis,’’ he said at the three-day workshop, entitled Space for Human and Environmental Security. ‘‘He won’t have to land unless it’s an emergency and this will help save costs and lives,” Ginati predicted. Ginati was also co-chair of the space for health session, which was attended by researchers from over 40 countries. He was joined as chairperson by South African satellite entrepreneur Sias Mostert, head of Space Commercial Services, located not far from the University of Stellenbosch. Ray Williamson, executive director of the Secure World Foundation, the US-based private non-profit organisation which helped to sponsor the UN/IAF workshop, was another speaker. Williamson, who used to be a professor at the Space Policy Institute at the US’ George Washington University, spoke on the challenges of reaching the end user in a world afloat with data.
sensors sniff out precious water
S Luboš Perek, the man who helped abolish Pluto. The 92-year-old Czech astronomer was head of the International Astronautical Federation from 1980 to 1982. And he’s here!
cientists in Morocco used satellites to help droughtstricken local authorities identify seven potential water aquifers. Ahmed Er Raji, from Morocco’s Royal Center for Remote Sensing, said his work helped the residents of the Ighrem district, in the arid and barren Anti-Atlas mountains, the southern-most range in the country. The North African researcher said he was now communicating the information to the relevant water authorities. The region is known for its arid climate, harsh winters and water shortages, he said. Satellites that identify areas that “retain water more than others” could help improve agricultural productivity in Morocco. Moroccan scientists are also using satellite sensors to map changes in the climate, he said.
Having some fun with the public cultural programme This is the first time the International Astronautical Federation has held its annual congress in Africa in over 60 years. So we have to do something different to mark the occasion. Here in Africa everyone gets involved, and to prove it we’ve put together a programme of events (many are free) that anyone can go to. These events represent other ways of thinking about space, they draw from inspiration found high up in the stars,
and the genius that comes from a place rooted deep in the African soil. Head of NASA, Astronaut, Charles F Bolden Jnr, Tuesday 4 October 20:00 CTICC. Make sure you book in advance on www. livingmaths.com. Adults R40, Children and OAPs, R20. SpaceWalk Tuesday 4 October All morning Cape Town CBD. To get the message across to the Cape Town people, that something massive
and spacelike is happening in their own city, we have found some real spacebeings to frolic and gamble around the city, generally doing what spacepeople do. Astronautical Poetry at OffThe-Wall, Monday 3 October 20:00. Keith Gottschalk, luminary of the space world in South Africa, is giving a reading of his astronauticallythemed poetry, followed by open mic. Entrance free.
IAF youth grant winners (l to r): Sudeep Neupane, from Kathmandu, Nepal; Lumka Msibi, from Soweto, South Africa; Eloise Matheson, from Australia, and Ravit Sachasiri from Thailand. Sudeep is founder vice president of Nepal Astronomical Society and a research student at Tribhuvan university in Sri Lanka. Lumka is in the third year of her aeronautics degree at the University of Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, and in the top fifteen percent of students. Eloise recently graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics Space)/Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Sydney, while Ravit, after studying in India and France, is currently working at Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA), in Thailand.
rench scientist Jean-Louis Fellous showed a satellite image of the Earth to delegates at the opening of an international workshop on using space to create a better world. “We say we live on planet Earth, but actually we live on planet ocean,” said Fellous, who is the head of the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), based in Paris. He was demonstrating how satellites have altered how we see our planet, ourselves, and our place in the universe. “Space introduced a real revolution in earth observation,” he said. “From 1960 to 1990, observing techniques have improved dramatically,” the atmospheric scientist said. He provided a satellite timeline, starting with the first Sputnik – in French, Spoutnik - launched in 1957, and ending with the French-Indian MeghaTropiques mission to measure tropical rainfall, which will be launched later this year. The level of international cooperation is “impressive” when it comes to satellites, he said.
no more rivers running through it?
wo satellites passing overhead have picked up an alarming drop in river levels in India’s historic ‘‘pink city’’ of Jaipur, according to researchers at the opening day of an international workshop on how developing world needs to use space technology. Geography professor Kamal Narain Joshi of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), based in Jaipur itself, was one of the speakers at the three-day workshop underway in Cape Town, South Africa. Sensors operating on sun-synchronous satellites (which move east, keeping pace with the Earth’s revolution around the Sun, providing consistent lighting) found that 60 of the city’s 518 streams “are blocked,’’ he said. Joshi told the delegates at the workshop, organised jointly by the United Nations and the Paris-based International Astronautical Federation, that human pollution – not drought – has been identified as the culprit. Many of the three million residents of the popular tourist destination are dumping waste in river beds, blocking the flow. The impact has been so severe that “water bodies are failing to recharge,” he warned the international delegates at the Space for Human and Environmental Security work-
shop. Some residents have even planted crops and tethered livestock in the river beds, further disrupting the water flow in more than ten percent of the streams, Joshi said. He said ‘‘the unplanned management of drainage” had become a crisis for the city, situated in the desert of Rajasthan. Joshi had a solution: common pasture areas, to ease pressure on the rivers and help “recharge the groundwater.” Municipal officials also need to improve the city’s drainage systems. The IDS combined the latest in remote sensing technology with data from the Google online search engine to identify the problem areas. Researchers then scoured the city to confirm the evidence supplied by the satellites. “Consequences are degradation of forest cover, a drop in ground water levels and an increase in water pollution,” Joshi said in his session, entitled Space for Food and Water. Other speakers at the session came from Pakistan, South Africa, Morocco, Guatemala, the Sudan and Thailand, demonstrating a variety of ways in which outer space was being used to solve problems here on planet Earth.
The space above and within our heads
he opening remarks at the developing countries’ satellites workshop, which traditionally predates today’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC), were strong on finding solutions. Climate change at land and at sea, food and water, health and diseases, protecting the environment: those are the problems. Lack of resources: that is the context for many delegates from the developing world. Information from satellites: that is the solution. “It’s a special workshop coming up for us,” said International Astronautical Federation (IAF) president Berndt Feuerbacher, who has been involved in numerous space missions: Europe’s Texus research rockets, America’s Spacelab, and Russia’s Mir space station. He noted that significance of the Congress being held for the first time in Africa, with a strong practical tilt to the discussions. ‘‘It’s time to really spread the message: space science is not for wealthy nations only. It benefits all people,” said Feuerbacher. Representatives of more than 45 countries attended the three-day workshop, entitled Space for Human and Envi-
ronmental Security. Astrophysicist Peter Martinez, chairperson of the IAC local organising committee, said the planning for various meetings, which started two years ago, was strong on providing a balanced programme. “The objective was to pay attention to Africa’s needs while responding to global agenda,” said Martinez, a member of the South African Astronomical Observatory here in Cape Town. He noted that the UN/IAF workshop was strategically sandwiched before the IAC and after the African Leadership Conference on space science for sustainable development, held last week in Mombasa, Kenya. So welcome to Africa, birthplace of humanity. In South Africa’s Sterkfontein caves, full of the fossils of our ancestors, lies the evidence of the first known use of deliberate fire, more than one million years ago. Fire is the tool which one day rocketed Sputnik into orbit, put a man on the Moon and brought delegates from around the globe to Cape Town. We like to think that you gathered here today are the direct descendants of that curiosity and that desire to solve problems.
discovery ‘like sending someone to the moon’
ceanographer Mathieu Rouault swam through shoals of altimetry data to discover a new current in the globally important Agulhas system swirling through the Indian Ocean. Rouault is the principal research officer in oceanography at the Marine Research Institute at the University of Cape Town (UCT) here in South Africa. He spoke about the warm Agulhas current, which flows along the east coast of South Africa before moving offshore and retroflecting back into the Indian Ocean. “It can have a really big impact on the climate of the planet, said Rouault, who is also affiliated with the Institute’s new Nansen-Tutu Centre, a joint effort with Norway. ‘‘In fact, if you were to stop the Agulhas current flow, there would be an ice age in the northern Atlantic,” Rouault said. Using a mapping programme, Rouault averaged altimetry derived from France’s AVISO (Archiving, Validation and Interpretation of Satellite Oceanographic data) collection. He discovered a strong east counter-current that flows from Madagascar to Australia and which had never been previously described. “For us in oceanography, the discovery of a current is as big as sending somebody on the moon,” he commented. “We rewrote the book on the circulation of the Indian Ocean.’’ Rouault thanked the army of “unknown soldiers” who perfect the algorithms and the people who distribute the data, often free of charge. He explained how research has shown that the Agulhas current has warmed up in response to an increase in wind
speed in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean. “The Agulhas Current is actually speeding up,” he went on to explain. This means that more salt is transferred into the Atlantic Ocean. That salt will actually eventually make its way one day into the Antarctic and will help that water to sink and thus affect the circulation of the ocean.” Rouault said the changes in ocean currents, which impact local weather systems, climate and fisheries, provide “very exciting problems.” “When you understand how everything works together, it is a lot easier to model it and to develop an early warning system that also uses satellites.” Rouault also shared how his satellite imagery is used for better understanding of problems such as droughts, floods, red tide (a poisonous algal bloom) and variability in marine ecosystems and fisheries. “The beauty of satellites for me is that they can be used not only to study the planet but also in real time to check ocean and weather pattern,” he concluded. This is especially important at a regional scale, where global models may not pick up important local variations. “So, you have to think globally and locally in science and satellite remote sensing,” he concluded. Rouault spoke during the first technical session, focusing on space and climate change, of the joint United Nations and International Astronautical Federation meeting. The three-day workshop, this year called Space for Human and Environmental Security, has preceded the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) for the past two decades.