Challenge the impossible
Science and technology have come a long way since the moon landing of 1969, and right now, humanity seems closer than ever to establishing itself beyond Earth.
But this can only be done by the promotion of maths, science and technology among the youth. Professor Hal Walker is right when he says the youth are the key to humanity’s drive to explore the far reaches of space – their imagination, determination and willingness to challenge the impossible are more potent than any rocket fuel. Make no mistake, science, technology, engineering and maths are vitally important subjects if you’re planning a spin around the solar system, but it doesn’t matter how good your kids are at them if they don’t look up at the stars and dream of touching them.
Of course big dreams need big money. In 2017, Elon Musk estimated the cost of getting 12 people to Mars to start a colony is about $10 billion per person.
But he also said that if the cost of moving to Mars could be reduced to roughly the equivalent of the median house price in America, which is around $200 000, then the probability of establishing a self-sustaining civilization there is very high.
In 1991, the Walkers founded the non-profit, African-American Male Achievers Network (A-MAN), which promotes science, technology, engineering and maths (STEAM) among the youth.
In 2002, Professor Walker started the South African STEM Achievers Programme (an astronomy club) at Ysterplaat Primary School. “I’m always captured by rocket launches as they always remind me that there is a lot of danger in what we do. I lost a friend in the Challenger disaster, and I still think about it to this day,” said Professor Walker.
It was vital to involve young people in science and technology because they would be responsible for making the discoveries that had eluded previous generations, he said.
In 2003, with the help of the Walkers, a then 15-year-old Nomathemba Kontyo flew to America after she won an international essay-writing competition about Mars and other celestial bodies. She spent two weeks at Nasa and had a chance to operate the Rover Opportunity on its mission on Mars.
Now 31, Ms Kontyo, who was at the launch of the centre on Sunday, said she was grateful for the opportunity and wished many more kids could get involved in space exploration, science and technology.
Skylar Martin, an aspiring young space explorer who spoke at the launch, said her father, Donovan Martin, had got her interested in the subject. Mr Martin is the secretary at the Cape Town Space Society.
“My dad is a huge Star Trek fan, and he was always fascinated with space,” said Skylar. “I never thought I would be in this position and sharing great ideas with the type of people I am. I feel really privileged and I love what I do.”
Aspiring astronaut Rajveer Singh Jolly attends Curro Century City. He loves sci-fi movies and books about space.
“One day I tweeted Elon Musk, asking him about how the youth will fare on Mars and what kind of people get to be astronauts.
“I was surprised when he tweeted me back and told me that it doesn’t matter where someone is from, anyone can can go to space,” said Rajveer.
Dr Walker said they wanted to set up centres in other parts of the country and the rest of Africa. Durban and Johannesburg had already shown interest, as had Uganda, she said.
“We used to say that the sky is the limit. But now, that is no longer the case. We can go beyond,” said Dr Walker.