Due to the fact that only 14% of the global STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) workforce are women, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology decided to train a team of 14 high school girls to encourage more African women into taking up STEM careers.
Among the team is 17-year-old Brittany Bull and 16-year-old Sesam Mngqengqiswa. They [the team] are enthusiastic about the project, as the project will bring them a step closer to their dreams to make Africa a better and safer place, as well as keep them prepared for any possible natural disasters. “We expect to receive a good signal, which will allow us to receive reliable data,” says Mngqengqiswa of Philippi High School.
Africa has been home to a lot of calamities; Just in April of this year, a major drought caused by an El Niño led to a shortfall of 9.3 million tons in southern Africa’s maize production, resulting in South Africa having to import 3 million to 4 million tons of maize to make up for the shortfall, causing their economy to drop. “In South Africa we have experienced some of the worst floods and droughts, and it has really affected the farmers very badly.” Mngqengqiswa adds. “It has caused our economy to drop, and this is a way of looking at how we can boost our economy,”
Source: Science Alert
The solution to this problem? To launch a space satellite than will orbit over the earth’s north and south poles and scan Africa’s surface for information on agriculture and food security throughout the continent. Using the data collected from the satellite, “we can try to determine and predict the problems Africa will be facing in the future”, says Bull from Pelican Park High School. “Where our food is growing, where we can plant more trees and vegetation and also how we can monitor remote areas,” she expounds further. “We have a lot of forest fires and floods but we don’t always get out there in time.” Indeed, the information will be collected from it twice a day, and will go towards disaster prevention.
The project was created by South Africa’s Meta Economic Development Organization (MEDO) in cooperation with US’ Morehead State University. If the project is successful, it will make MEDO the first private African company to build and launch a satellite into orbit in space.
During the first trials, the girls programmed small CricketSat satellites and launched them using high-altitude weather balloons. As the project progressed, they eventually helped configure the actual satellite’s payloads.
These small format satellites are a low cost way of gathering data on the planet quickly. The tests that have conducted so far have included collecting data from thermal imaging technology, which can then be interpreted for early flood or drought detection.
“It’s a new field for us [in Africa] but I think with it we would be able to make positive changes to our economy,” says Mngqengqiswa. Ultimately, they hope that the project will include girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya, and Rwanda.
Mngqengqiswa was raised by her single mother, a domestic worker. It was coming from this household that inspired her to become a space engineer or astronaut and make her mother proud. “Discovering space and seeing the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s not something many black Africans have been able to do, or do not get the opportunity to look at,” she says.
Sadly, Mngqengqiswa is right. Over the span of half a century of space travel, no black African has even gone to outer space. However, than doesn’t stop her from dreaming big. “I want to see these things for myself,” she declares, “I want to be able to experience these things.”
Her team mate, Bull, agrees, “I want to show to fellow girls that we don’t need to sit around or limit ourselves. Any career is possible — even aerospace.”