One of the most common careers goals when you’re little is to become an astronaut. But how could you make this childhood dream a reality? For South Africans, this is a lot harder than just putting in the time and finding the right degree.
Although South Africa has a space agency, the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) doesn’t have an astronaut training programme. CEO of SANSA, Dr Munusami, explained that this is largely because the cost of sending someone to the International Space Station is too prohibitive. The average mission, for a period as short as 5 days, can cost between $70-80 million (over R1 billion). For a country like South Africa, this is hard to justify with our current economic concerns.
As a result, those who do want to go to space unfortunately have to be very wealthy or hold a foreign passport.
South Africa’s most well-known space explorer, Mark Shuttleworth, paid to be aboard a flight to the international space station. He paid approximately R408,000,000 and had to train for a year, six months of which were at the space agency in Russia.
There are sometimes private initiatives to sponsor and train aspiring astronauts from developing countries, but these are not consistent and depend on private funding.
Studying a STEM subject or joining the airforce are the basis for getting into big international programmes like NASA. Unfortunately NASA only accepts US citizens to it’s astronaut training programme, so unless you have access to a US passport and move to the country to study, this makes the already difficult path to a career even harder. European space agencies have similar rules.
But this is not to say working in the field of space is not an option. SANSA’s projects in space engineering, space operations and earth observation all require skilled Masters and PHD graduates. Through these projects you can work on building and launching satellites, be involved in tracking vital satellite movements over the country and assist in the field of space weather, now that SANSA has been designated to provide this information for the continent of Africa to all airplane pilots.
SANSA supports Masters and PHD students studying in field contributing to their work, encouraging South Africans to get involved in the country’s work even if it means they stay grounded on Earth.