Friday, October 27, 2006

Nigeria's Space Program

Ever since man walked on the moon around 1970, people have been asking the question, "Why spend all of this money on space when there are too many problems to solve here at home and too many poor people in this nation?" Even though the money NASA spends is less than 1% of the national budget, this is still far too large for many people.

But try telling that to Nigerians. Nigeria is one of the poorest in the world, with a per capita income of only $1400/year. To many people, the thought of Nigeria building a space program was madness. They simply can't afford it, most people believed. Or, says others, the leaders merely wanted to use nationalism to become reelected.

In 2003, Nigeria launched a satellite into orbit to monitor agriculture and potential mining places, and it is planning more satellites. Nigeria wants to fly a man into space by 2025. While the launch in 2003 was a source of national pride, many were critical of the launch for the reasons mentioned above. So are Nigerians making a bad move?

No. Nigerians have an eye on their long term future. Looking back at the US space program, there were many important technological spinoffs. Modern computing technology is based upon many of the advances in microprocessor technology that Apollo was built on. Velcro came from the space program. Space is very important for monitoring Earth. We use it to monitor and forecast weather, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, potential mining spots, etc. Without satellite technology, weather forecasting would be much, much more difficult than it is today. As high as the death toll from Hurricane Katrina was, imagine if we didn't have space technology. Imagine if the hurricane was a total surprise for those affected by the storm. Weather satellites saved perhaps tens of thousands of people in the area ravaged by the storm. Satellite technology even helped with rescue operations in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami.

Only 1% of Nigerians has access to telephone lines. This lack of communications infrastructure is part of what keeps Nigeria impoverished. But putting a communications satellite into orbit will provide the entire nation with wireless communications, include available broadband Internet, which Nigerians hope to sell for revenue. As successful and profitable as cell phones have proven in African nations, broadband Internet could generate a huge economic stimulus to an economy that really needs it. These technologies could help Nigeria develop economically, and to alleviate poverty. The NASRDA explains their objectives for leapfrogging in their mission statement.

1 comment:

  1. Good post!
    The Nigerians could probably pay for their whole space program by launching a couple (or more!) of satellites and parking them over North America, and selling broadband access to Americans... Millions of us live in rural areas with no hope of DSL, Cable, and/or cannot afford the highway robbery of $70 a month of Satellite Broadband.
    How many subscribers could be supported by one satellite?