Johannesburg: Africa's first mission to the moon is aimed at establishing the continent's presence in the field of scientific research, offer benefits to its residents and encourage its young people to study mathematics, physics and space science, according to the South African Foundation for Space Development (FSD).
To achieve these objectives, the FSD has already launched the first phase of the project: raising the money needed by specialised institutions across the continent to define the project's technical specifications and scientific goals by November of this year.
"Nobody expects Africa to contribute to scientific exploration, but the more we work in this direction, the more people on the continent will be convinced of the idea that Africa is capable and can get out of the problems it currently faces," FSD Director Jonathan Weltman told Efe news agency.
The initiative, called "Africa2Moon" (Africa to the Moon), could meet the challenge of sending a mission to the moon in 10 years, although the first steps will begin at universities and study centres across the continent while the plan is being outlined.
"Africa2Moon" aims to create a concrete, ambitious and attractive challenge, that will force the development of organisations dedicated to the study of space science, physics and mathematics on the continent.
It also aims to provide the best African brains a reason to stay in Africa or return to work at home.
"Space technologies such as GPS communication, monitoring climate or agriculture, cannot be dealt with at a national level. The benefits of any progress will be continental," says Weltman.
He also points to the problem of so-called brain drain shared by many countries of the continent, where many professionals and scientists migrate to Europe and the US or, often, to South Africa, a country with top universities and developed economy.
That is why the FSD insists that "Africa2Moon" must not remain purely South African, leaving continental powers like Nigeria, which has the only space programme along with South Africa, in addition to Egypt and Tunisia.
Accordingly, the project's promoters do not urge the creation of a science centre located at a particular point of Africa, but to use already operating infrastructure while commissioning and building new infrastructure to meet the challenge of the Pan-African mission to the Moon.
"In Africa, there are possibilities for building the probe. Satellites and space vehicles are built on the continent," says Weltman in respect to one of the three requirements of this mission to the Moon , which will contribute to the work of countries like Russia, China, Europe or the US in the space sciences.
However, the African continent still lacks the other two: the ability to build the missile to launch the probe and to develop an infrastructure from which the launch can be made.
Therefore, development of skills and infrastructure to build and launch the missile is one of the great challenges of "Africa2Moon" which at the present time, is soliciting donations from private entities.
Once the first phase is completed, however, there are plans to request funding from governments and public institutions.