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One man's mission to put Ugandans in space

By Emily Wither, CNN
updated 12:16 PM EDT, Tue October 4, 2011
The members of the African Space Research Program are putting the final touches to their aircraft
The members of the African Space Research Program are putting the final touches to their aircraft
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The African Space Research Program is based in Uganda
  • A team of over 600 volunteers are building an aircraft and space shuttle
  • The group has just secured funding from the Ugandan government
  • The founder says they'll have a shuttle built in 4-6 years

(CNN) -- You could say Chris Nsamba has always been something of an overachiever.

By the age of 16 he'd already won three science competitions for adults.

Now in his late 20s, the Ugandan is still dreaming big: He hopes to build and launch the first African manned shuttle into space.

"It isn't about money, it isn't about competition or pride," said Nsamba, founder of the African Space Research Program. "The mission is about advancement in space technology as a continent and what we can contribute towards that growth."

While the group's plans are ambitious, they are starting at the beginning of the aerospace ladder.

To test their engineering skills, Nsamba and his team are finishing off the first Ugandan designed and built aircraft.

But for Nsamba the sky is not the limit.

"We are trying to have Africa participate in the contribution of knowledge into mankind's destiny," he said.

This is not a one man mission, we work jointly to achieve goals.
Chris Nsamba, founder African Space Research Program

He says the program's slogan, "Slowly We Get Smart and Quickly We get Old," sums up why his efforts are so important.

"United as one, the knowledge we acquire today will help generations of tomorrow, and perhaps save our future generations from some kind of catastrophe," he continued.

Nsamba has a team of over 600 volunteers, many of whom are engineering students, who work on the project in his backyard.

Uganda doesn't have a history of space exploration and Nsamba is teaching the aspiring astronauts himself.

"This is not a one-man mission. We work jointly to achieve goals," Nsamba said. "I have trained my crew (in) advanced astronomy. They are very good at astronomy in regards to calculations and identifications of various space objects."

As well as his astronomy lessons, he's educating them about the dangers of space, such as re-entry and the harms of radiation.

But while the team may be knowledgeable, they lack the tools and machinery to properly get the project off the ground.

It's all down to money, but this could be about to change.

The Ugandan Government's Science and Technology department has told CNN that the state is going to start providing financial support to the program.

"You can call it a public-private partnership but mainly driven by the young people whose passion is in space science. I applaud their ambition," said Richard Tushemereirwe, a spokesman from the department.

"It provides an opportunity for Africans in general and Ugandans in particular to participate in space science and research instead of being spectators," he continued.

It provides an opportunity for Africans in general and Ugandans in particular to participate in space science and research instead of being spectators
Richard Tushemereirwe, Science and Technology Ugandan Government

A team of flight engineers from the Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority has also been assigned to review and advise the team.

Tushemereirwe wouldn't disclose how much funding the group will receive. But until now the project has been funded by well-wishers from around the world.

Nsamba says equipment has been donated to them and anything else the team needs they make it themselves.

"Recently we manufactured and launched a prototype thruster, a small shuttle engine in a prototype format," Nsamba said.

One of the donors to the program is Lauren Stewart, a financial analyst from Texas.

Stewart discovered the group online and immediately wanted to be involved.

"When you listen to the news you never hear good news from Africa, it's always sadness, so this is a light," she said. "They are trying to do something on a positive side rather a negative side compared to what I'm used to hearing."

Stewart is now trying to raise the group's profile in the States. "I want people to trust them and get involved so they can be part of history," she said.

Despite the challenges the team faces, Nsamaba remains confident they'll have a space shuttle built in four to six years. He's already named it "The Dynacraft."

"It will first operate in Earth's lower orbit then advance with time," he said.

"We might not have money in our system but we do get our homework done!"

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