The Sunday Mail
President E.D. Mnangagwa
LAST Monday, history was made when our Nation, Zimbabwe, despatched its first ever satellite into Space.
This was a fine moment, a landmark development made possible through the collaborative effort of three nations, namely, Japan, the United States of America and ourselves.
Our budding space scientists worked closely with their Japanese counterparts to build the satellite. Once built and ready, we turned to the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA), the space agency of the United States of America, for launch technology. All this happened under the ambit of the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite Project, BIRDS for short. It was a remarkable show in multinational collaboration in aid of space science. I want to thank both these Governments for availing their expertise and facilities without which our ambitions to become a Space Nation would have remained a delayed dream.
Anxious and unsettling moments
The despatch of any body into space is always a delicate affair. A lot of things can and often do go wrong. That Monday morning when the launch was done, I was in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for COP 27. It was an anxious and unsettling moment watching and waiting with bated breath, as NASA prepared to launch the rocket carrying our ZIMSAT-1 into space.
After all, the launch had been called off at the last minute the day before, because of some technical glitches. On the day, my anxiety mounted with each countdown; it would not be allayed until the rocket took off from the Launchpad, soared high and higher, to dwindle into a diminishing flicker, before disappearing and vanishing into vast space, well beyond human sight. It was then I half-settled, realising a key milestone for our young Nation had been passed. Experts tell me the second stage will take place later this month, when our ZIMSAT-1 will be launched into orbit. Only then will the mission be complete, making us a full Space Nation. We will be among the few on our African Continent.
All part of Education 5.0
The despatch of ZIMSAT-1 was no accident. Earlier, after the inauguration of the Second Republic, we sat down as the new Administration to debate the role of education, innovation, science and technology in the modernisation and industrialisation of our country. At the time, our Economy was in deep throes. Yet still we dared envision. The result was a new doctrine we now call Education 5.0, which made heritage, innovation and industrialisation key pillars of our new, transformed education system.
Putting accent on R&D
The goal was to put education and knowledge building in the service of our Nation, as our Nation sought to overcome its challenges, and to modernise and industrialise on its way to our stated vision, Vision 2030. That Doctrine also enjoined Government to assign 1 percent of National Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards Research and Development (R and D). This had never been done before, with our country all along being a mere consumer of received technologies, sunset ones even, in a number of cases. I am happy to say the Second Republic has lived true to that allocative commitment, which is how we have been able to support innovation hubs and develop new and appropriate, home-grown technologies, wholly suited to the needs of our industries, and our communities in their quest to industrialise our rural areas.
ZINGSA and satellite launch
Education 5.0 has a specific section devoted to Geospatial, Aeronautical and Space Science.
That section sired the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency (ZINGSA), which has been at the heart of the development of ZIMSAT-1. We spelt out ZINGSA’s mission thus: “The Agency shall design and conduct research and development initiatives that promote advances in Geospatial Science and Earth Observation, Space Science, Space Engineering, Aeronautical Engineering, Astronautical Engineering, Satellite Communications Systems, Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), Land Positioning Systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and launch Satellites.” I opened ZINGSA at the University of Zimbabwe in 2018, amidst palpable scepticism. Many thought this was rank madness by some starry-eyed dreamers, was something well beyond our reach given the myriad challenges we grappled with at the time. Our infrastructure was broken; our economy was in a state of collapse; we endured long hours of power outages. Yet there we were, dreaming about participating in space economy!
More satellites will be launched
Today we celebrate that ZINGSA has delivered on its mandate, making Zimbabwe a Space Nation. Of course, that we named our maiden satellite ZIMSAT-1 means we foresee the launch of more satellites as our Nation fully exploits and harnesses space technology for rapid industrialisation and modernisation. Indeed, ZIMSAT-2 is on its way, and should be a lot easier given the expertise, experience and confidence we have now garnered through this multinational partnership.
Capabilities of ZIMSAT-1
ZIMSAT-1 allows us to “see” our country from outer space. It is our outer-inner eye which enables us to grasp and understand our country from several angles, including its physical environment, its geological attributes and endowments, our weather patterns and our human settlements. With that vast, enhanced capability, we should be able to inventory our subsoil assets, our flora and fauna, to anticipate disasters, weather patterns and to map our total human settlement and land use plans. We are also able to make key interventions in national health, including foreseeing pandemics in time for timeous responses. The possibilities are immense and limitless, making this a worthwhile venture and investment.
Meeting National ICT needs
ZIMSAT-2, which we hope to launch quite soon, will give us additional capabilities, including in the critical field of communications.
Once up, ZIMSAT-2 will enable total national connectivity, thus making ICT and other communication applications pervasive handmaidens in National Development. This is a key goal of our NDS1, indeed a key enabler to our goal of achieving universal education steeped in science and technology.
A Nation defying gravity, soaring!
Monday’s development also has deep, far-reaching symbolism for our Nation. It symbolises a young Nation dreaming; a young Nation defying gravity to join the big boys in exploiting the hitherto exclusive space economy. It symbolises our soaring ambition, but one firmly grounded in realism and practicalities. What we say we set out to do, we will do! And in the quest to attain our Vision, no goal should be beyond our reach, for as long as we remain focused and united as a people. In ZIMSAT-1, Zimbabwe now has its own Star of David; it must symbolise a Nation always looking up, forward and beyond, all to soar higher and higher until it catches up with the rest of developed mankind. Nothing should put us down; nothing should draw us back, in all we set out to do.
My pledge to our Scientists
ZIMSAT emboldens our community of scientists; emboldens them to strive to reach higher domains of technological excellence and innovation. As your President, I make this one commitment: no Zimbabwean with ideas and keen to invent and innovate will go without funding. My Administration is ready to walk you along, pick you up when you fall, motivate you to pick yourself up and do more, until your idea becomes a scientific reality, a technological product. Does national legend not remind us that our Varozvi – the architects of the Great Zimbabwe Civilisation – made a great shot at reaching the moon, in their own unique way? Was their goal not to grab the moon and make it a holy plate for their King? They may not have accomplished that feat; but they dared to dream, thereby imparting into our national DNA the spirit of scientific inquiry and “venturesomeness’”. That spirit must now take total control, so that through the innovation hubs we continue to set up at various State Universities and Polytechnics, we conceive, invent, develop, patent and commercialise various technologies, for the industrialisation and modernisation of our Nation and Africa. Who ever thought we could manufacture medical oxygen? Who ever thought we could develop our own personal protective equipment (PPEs)? Yet we now do. We have developed many new technologies, a number of which are now at commercialisation stage. In due course, the Nation will know.
Thank you ZINGSA
The Second Republic will be a dependable partner in this national endeavour, whose journey has just begun. Well done ZINGSA; well done our scientists, both budding and established. Indeed, thank you our international partners. Zimbabwe is set to venture and conquer new domains and spaces, through mastering science, innovation and technology.