Monday, 10 August 2009

South Africa in space...?

This just in (well, sort of). South Africa has plans to become a regional centre for space technology! A quiver of, well, I'm not sure, but possible pride, runs through the ol' veins. Hooray for my country-folk!

It seems that investment in space is all the rage these days. Well, apart from America - perhaps a case of 'been there, done that, have the rusting Saturn Vs'. (I am being flippant, I realise, and I know that far more complex excuses than this have been used).

Australia is also investing heavily (some $88 million) in space research, although they admit they have somewhat missed the boat in terms of world leadership, having done, well, not very much since they were instrumental in the broadcasting of Apollo 11's famous landing. Anyway, a large part of the decision is because they want the contract for the SKA, which they have already started building...

Even New Zealand also has its own burgeoning space industry. Small, yes, but pert (to copy shamelessly a local, but amusing, ad). In fact, our first space mission is imminent. And very exciting. Oh, to see it...

To get back to the SA situation, though: while it's laudable, and definitely heart-rate-increasing for those of us who still get dewy-eyed at the thought of the whole space thing (blame too much Star Trek, if you will), it doesn't seem, well, appropriate.

South Africa has many problems. Many of them centred around health and education. And I just don't know that spending money on a space programme is entirely the right course of action or, for that matter, terribly useful, for a country with as many other problems as South Africa. I think back to my own experience working in Africa's only neural regeneration lab - a lovely idea, but really, it simply wasn't a priority there. As a result, of course, we battled.

Add to that the fact that the SA government is not terribly good at managing projects. Ideas, yes. Practicalities, not really. We will simply have to see whether they can, and will, follow through on their sweeping statements of intent.

And finally: it's competing against Australia for the SKA...