It might sound like the set-up for some kind of email scam, but it’s not: Nigerian Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu has announced that his country plans to send its first astronaut into space before the year 2030.
The announcement comes roughly a month after a highly-circulated email con claiming that a Nigerian astronaut was after secretly being sent to space in 1989, according to the Toronto Sun. The email went on to claim that this astronaut had been kept alive thanks to care packages, but now really wants to come home and needs financial assistance to do so.
Of course, none of that is true, but Nigeria does actually have a space program, and as Channels TV and Quartz reported over the weekend, they want to join the US, India, China, Japan, Russia, Canada and the member states of the European Space Agency as governing bodies that have sent humans beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and the Karman Line (62 miles above sea level).
During a meeting with the Nigerian Defense Space Agency in Abuja last week, Dr. Onu said that spaceflight was “very important for a country like Nigeria” and that the government was working to create the infrastructure needed to pull off a manned mission, according to Channels TV.
He added that space was “a major asset which nations like Nigeria must also be involved in for the purposes of protecting national interest,” and that the ministry would need to “work very hard in the years ahead... to ensure that the nation plays a role” in space travel in the near future.
As Quartz pointed out, however, a Nigerian astronaut actually has already traveled into space – sort of. In 2006, the website explained, the country sent a 17-year-old girl named Stella Felix to an altitude of six miles (10 km), during which time she experienced 30 seconds of weightlessness and was called the first Nigerian to experience a “space flight,” according to BBC News.
Semantics aside, the plan seems to be to launch an astronaut using rockets developed by Nigerian engineers and built domestically through their own space program, which was originally founded in 2001 and launched its first satellite in 2003. It may sound like a tall order, but experts with the program have been working with China to help launch their satellites in exchange for training.
Dr. Onu, for one, is confident that he and his colleagues can pull off the feat, telling This Day, “on or before 2030, we can do it before with the program and infrastructure that we have,” and that all the funding needed to implement was a program had been included in a recently-passed budget.
“We have developed the capacity to design” and “assemble” spacecraft, he continued. “The last stage is the capacity to launch and we believe very strongly that with the support from President Muhammadu Buhari, we will utilize whatever limited resources that we have in a very efficient manner to make sure that we make the nation proud.”