Space science and technology (S&T) came alive for three learners who paid a visit to the CSIR Satellite Applications Centre during the recent autumn school holidays, together with their parents and one educator. The innovative science ideas of these three - Chris-Mari Dames and Henco Saayman, Grade 8 learners from Waterkloof Hoërskool, and Doné Wassenaar, also in Grade 8 at Afrikaans Hoër Meisieskool - as demonstrated in a school project have ensured them a trip to Houston, Texas, in July 2009.
Henco Saayman, Chris-Mari Dames and Doné Wassenaar at the 12 m antenna
Chris-Mari explained how it came about, "Doné and I designed a space belt equipped with food and a tool kit while we were at primary school. This science project won us first prize and a chance to participate in the international competition NASA offers next year.
"We invited Henco to join us on the project and will pull in another fellow learner to make up a four-person team. Our project this time is to build a space station to house 10 000 people in the year 2035. The main purpose of this station will be to mine asteroids."
The learners have been sourcing information from books and the web, where a wealth of information is available via such sites as NASA. The project involves planning the conformation and design. The completed project will accompany the learners and their parents to the US next year, where it will go on exhibition at Houston.
The visit took place at the invitation of Raoul Hodges, head of the CSIR's site at Hartebeesthoek. "I felt it would be a good idea to give these young people a taste of our own South African space S&T," he explained.
A carefully planned programme ensured that the learners were given a full appreciation of the CSIR's role in tracking, telemetry and command in support of its international clients, as well as its contribution in the earth observation domain. Technical presentations were livened up by practical illustrations, for example, how spatial analysis can be applied in crime analysis, and personal photographs and anecdotes by Hodges of his visit to Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The highlight for the learners was undoubtedly the visit to the 'antenna farm'. The venerable 12 m antenna, 40-something years young and still going strong, never fails to make an impression, and this time was no exception. As it dipped, the three young people dodged but returned to place their hands on the surface of the dish.
Their comments at the end of the visit attest to the impression it left on them. Henco wrote: "I learnt a great deal and I think the technology is very advanced." Chris-Mari's praise was spontaneous, "Everything was perfect. It was unbelievable fun." Doné concurred and added, "It is fantastic to know that South Africa's technology is so advanced. As few people know about this, I can now spread the word."
The CSIR wishes these three young people well and looks forward to hearing about their visit to NASA next year.