Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, and ranking 20th in total GDP in the world, just announced plans to send one of its citizens into space before 2030. It’s part of the country’s ongoing plan to become a world-class space power.
When we think about the world’s current space players, the U.S. automatically tops the list. Then there’s Russia, Europe, and China. Japan and India aren’t too far behind, but they have some major strides to make. Finally, on the lowest tier are countries like Malaysia, Egypt, Indonesia, and Iran, among others. Nigeria doesn’t even really come to mind for avid space enthusiasts.
The African country is looking to change that soon. The country launched its space agency NASRDA (National Space Research and Development Agency) back in 2001, and launched its first satellite, Nigeriasat-1, back in 2003. A second satellite was launched in 2007, and another pair were launched in 2011. Three of those are still in orbit — including the most recent, NigeriaSat-X, which was designed and manufactured entirely by NASRDA scientists and engineers.
But this new announcement looks to place the country right in the midst of human space exploration – something only very few countries in the world have managed to accomplish.
“The space program is very important,” said Ogbonnaya Onu, the Nigerian Minister of Science and Technology, during a speech in the capital city Abuja. “Space is a major asset that Nigeria must be involved in for the purpose of protecting national interests.”
The country plans to work with partners in China, who have been heavily involved with the development and launch of several other Nigerian satellites in the past decade.
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s hopes to be taken seriously as an emerging space power are stymied by how poorly the country has managed perceptions around the globe. A scam email had been sent right before Onu’s announcement that demanded $3 million for a lost Nigerian astronaut. Obviously, that email went viral around the internet like a meme combining cats and Christ. And the government itself has been criticized for poorly managing the country’s policy commitments.
And yet, it would be unwise to write off NASRDA as a lofty pipe dream. Nigeria’s satellites have collected an extensive amount of data related to Earth activities, including meteorological patterns to help improve agricultural practices and climate change data. And they’ve even played a role in helping the country fight Boko Haram and save hostages being held captive. Human space exploration is simply the next logical step in advancing the country’s presence in space-based technology.
Moreover, Nigeria wants to make cost-effective equipment that can still operate as, or nearly as, effectively as NASA’s own satellites – helping to make the overall cost of space exploration much more affordable for other countries and private companies alike.
There’s also a less tangible but perhaps more important implication behind Nigeria’s announcement. If the country does indeed show substantial progress in its goal towards launching an astronaut into space, it will cause the rest of the world to take the country seriously – and as a result, take the rest of Africa more seriously, as well. Nigeria’s success could inspire a wave of other countries to begin investing more into space programs and other lofty engineering projects.
Nigeria has a long ways to go before the prospect of sending its own astronaut into orbit seems within reach, but even the U.S. had to start somewhere. There is too much at stake for the future to ignore the importance of establishing a solid footing in space exploration today.