(CNN) – When you think about space exploration, Cape Canaveral and the international space station probably come to mind.
Here’s another place to add to that list: Nigeria. That’s right. Nigeria has a space program. The national space research and development agency.
CNN Reporter Eleni Giokos said, “Many people are very shocked to hear that Nigeria has a space agency.”
Director S.O. Mohamed explained, “The space program in Nigeria has always been focused on how to bring practical solutions to Nigerian’s problems. We are not part of the race for the moon, we’re not part the race for mars. What we need to look at is using the space program to look at how we can create typical Nigerian solutions to most of our problems.
Giokos asked, “What are the problems that you’re experiencing at the moment?”
Mohamed responded with, “Our satellite images will afford us opportunities of looking at every nooks and cranny of this country. What amount of growth are coming to the cities, where exactly are the best soils for rice cultivation, and how do we contribute to the issues of the global warming? All these are part of why a space program is necessary in Nigeria.
It might seem surprising that Nigeria, a country with spotty electricity, a 70% poverty rate, a life expectancy of 53 would fund a space program. Even Nigerians who work there have a hard time believing it.
Giokos asked, “Were you surprised that there was a space agency in Nigeria?”
Scientist: “I was initially. When I tell my friends where I work, they say oh we have that agency?”
The agency has eight locations, including the center for satellite technology and development in capital city, Abuja. Its sprawling campus is home to a ground station, a conference center, even a museum. The laboratories look more like high school science classrooms, but the agency has put five satellites in orbit since 2003.
Those satellites were not built or launched on Nigerian soil. That’s the next goal. In 2018 we’ll be able to build a satellite from our facility here in Nigeria. //in 2030 we hope to have a facility to launch satellite on Nigerian territory.
Why not keep outsourcing the heavy lifting to places like Russia and China – that have launched Nigeria’s previous earth observation and communications satellites. An engineer who worked on those designs of previous satellites say it’s about national pride.
Giokos: “What’s so special about a Nigerian satellite?”
Engineer 1: we should be able to translate what we’ve seen abroad here in Nigeria so we can have our own satellite that we’ll be proud of.
Perhaps the most ambitious goal: putting the first African astronaut in space by 2030.
Engineer 2: putting a man in space is one thing everybody tends to appreciate and its one goal that everybody wishes to actualize, and my country Nigeria cannot be left out.
The space agency is also using their satellites to look for developing tools to fight terrorist group Boko haram in the north, almost 300 school girls kidnapped in 2014 by Boko haram and all these plans, of course, will take a lot of money.
For this year, Nigeria allocated about $20 million to the space agency. The director says, more money is always needed.
Giokos: “This year you need 30 million? Why should government be spending that money on the space agency and not pumping it into other sectors that are in dire need of funding?”
This is the same question always asked in the U.S. why waste money on NASA budget for satellite is also budget for agriculture. Budget for satellite is also budget for environment. Money to the space agency $30 million, is it a waste? To me it is not.