NASA mission in Senegal – A source of inspiration for young Senegalese scientists


Introductory words by David Baratoux (translation from French speech)
In presence of Maram KAIRE (ASPA), Heath Bailey (USA Embassy in Dakar), Laurent Perez-Vidal (French Embassy), and the public of the “Théâtre de Verdure” of the French Institute in Dakar

As we will discover tonight, the space exploration of our Solar System, the planetary and space sciences are areas that are not restricted to a few nations around the world.

These sciences are first of all a source of inspiration and motivation for young people who face the learning of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, or engineering sciences. Exploring the solar system leads to combine the learning of these fundamental disciplines, essential for innovation, with a huge part of dream, and also of excitement in front of the first images of new worlds, as we will discover one tonight. Participating in this adventure of space exploration of our solar system can play a role in education from primary school to university.

Sharing together tonight the latest news of this space exploration of our Solar System brings us together beyond all our cultural or religious differences. The questions we ask ourselves, the questions you will ask scientists tonight are universal. What we are going to live tonight is a way to get to know each other, to recognize ourselves as living on the same planet, the only currently habitable planet in our solar system. As such, I dare to say that looking up to the stars is also a way to contribute to the peace in the world, and to become aware of our precious environment.

In 2017, many of us here participated in the launch of the “African Initiative for Planetary and Space Science”, whose goal is to help promote these sciences across the continent, to provide opportunities to young Africans inspired by this field. The French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), which recognizes the value of this initiative, was one of the first institutions to support it, and was followed by some 20 institutions and universities in Africa.

It is through this initiative that NASA has contacted Senegalese and French researchers at the end of 2017 to study the feasibility of an observation campaign in Senegal in preparation for the NASA New Horizons flyby of the more distant object of the Solar System never explored: Ultima Thule. The enthusiasm of the Senegalese researchers, but also the support of the Ministry of Research for Higher Education and Innovation have been exceptional, as it will be confirmed in the evening by our colleagues from NASA. Thus was formed the time of 4 intense nights of observation, last August in Senegal, a team composed of Senegalese researchers, NASA researchers, and French researchers with the support of IRD and the French Space Agency, CNES. The IRD has notably contributed to the making of the documentary movie in Senegal that we will discover together tonight and which evocates this scientific and human adventure.

We want to believe that this mission of NASA in Senegal has given a new impetus to contribute, with other nations to the knowledge of the universe, near, or even the farthest. I applaud for this reason the work done for many years by Maram KAIRE, president of the Senegalese Association for the Promotion of Astronomy. What we are going to talk about tonight is an important step for his projects, but I know that he is also looking forward to the future! In 2024, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) will hold its General Assembly in South Africa. This is the first time that this major international meeting will take place on the African continent. The International Astronomical Union has by then the ambition to contribute to the transformation of the research in this field in Africa, in particular through its office “Astronomy for the Development (OAD)”. Only a few weeks ago, the African Astronomical Society was relaunched. Several African countries are gradually acquiring research infrastructures such as the Oukameiden observatory in Morocco, the SKA and its precursor Merkaat in South Africa, the Entoto observatory in Ethiopia. An African Space Agency has just been created. We are fully engaged in this dynamic, tonight, reliving together the highlights of NASA’s mission in Senegal, and the scientific discoveries that followed during the flight over Ultima Thule in January 2019.



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