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Africa sets its sights on the Moon

Kate Arkless Gray, News Reporter
Nov 26, 2014, 16:58 UTC

Sen—The Foundation for Space Development, South Africa, has initiated an ambitious project to launch an African mission to the Moon. Together with partner organisations from around the continent, they hope to inspire African youth to reach for their potential.

With much fanfare around last week’s announcement of Lunar Mission One, the soft launch of the Africa2Moon was overlooked by many, though both projects are looking to use crowdfunding platforms to help with their mission development.

Africa2Moon is aiming to raise $150,000 (compared to Lunar Mission One’s targeted $1million) to fund the Phase I element of their project. People can join in with the project from as little as $5, though pledges of $25 or $50 offer the chance to compose a tweet or create a video to be sent from the Moon back to Earth during the mission.

Phase I is to conduct a feasibility study for the mission, and Africa2Moon is inviting expressions of interest from volunteers wanting to get involved with the science and engineering advisory panel. They are keen to get as many people involved from the very start, and already students at the University of Cape Town are using Africa2Moon as a case study during their Mission Planning module at the Space Lab this week.

The primary objectives of the mission are “inspiration, education and science”, and it’s the order of focus on these that sets it apart from Lunar Mission One. 

“Their primary objective is to do science, and their success or failure will be judged on that—years from now” says Jonathan Weltman, CEO of the Foundation for Space Development. 

“At Africa2Moon we believe that the idea of going to the Moon can already start inspiring children and adults in Africa, and that inspiration will lead to many wanting to know more. Hopefully they will follow up the inspiration the mission can provide, with a formal education. That can happen today, we don't have to wait years for it.”

Africa2Moon hopes to work closely with schools and get them involved in creating and receive videos sent back from the Moon, and with 50 per cent of the continent’s population aged 19 or younger, there is no shortage of young people to engage with.

The Africa2Moon philosophy says Weltman, is that “Inspiration leads to education; education—especially in the sciences—leads to opportunity, and opportunity leads to economic empowerment”. 

Of the 54 countries that make up the continent of Africa, only six currently have national space agencies of their own and just three (Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa) have launched and operated their own satellites. There is, however, a growing interest in space, and the African Union’s working group on space has agreed a draft African Space Policy and a framework for developing a draft Space Strategy for the continent.

Phase I of the project begins in January and will run until November 2015, with a quarter of the money raised going directly towards funding education and public engagement. There is no target date set for the mission, and the feasibility study will explore whether they should aim for a Moon landing or lunar orbiter. Either way, the key thing is to provide inspiration.

Weltman said: “We hope that the #Africa2Moon Mission will inspire the youth of Africa to believe that ‘We can reach for the Moon’ by really reaching for the Moon!”