Thursday, 4 October 2012

Fly me to the moon, says minister as he remembers childhood dream

When the Americans sent a man to the moon in 1969, the world was hooked. Millions followed Neil Armstrong’s footsteps as he made history.

Those who couldn’t watch this unfold on television read about it. An of course, there was Sputnik (‘travelling companion’ in Russian), which was launched by the USSR nearly a decade earlier in the midst of the Cold War. In 1999, to commemorate the contributions made to exploring space, science and technology, the United Nations decided to celebrate World Space Week around the world from October 4 to October 10.

This year’s space week is all about ‘Space for Human Safety and Security.’ It will be celebrated in 10 cities across the country. The inaugural ceremony was held at the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) in Karachi with Sindh Education Minister Pir Mazharul Haq as chief guest.

According to Qurat-ul-Ain, a Suparco employee, they want to get students interested in the Milky Way, the galaxy and the universe. “It is not something we talk or think about in our daily lives. You won’t see two people just discussing the moons that orbit Jupiter,” she said while talking to The Express Tribune. “For space week, we have organised events such as rocket competitions, to keep the students and young ones interested.”

The minister, who was visiting the space centre for the first time, said it was a dream come true. “I wanted to visit the headquarters of a space agency since I was a child,” he said. “When I was young I used to jump in the air and pretend that I was flying in space.” Even though he wanted to be up-to-date with what was going on in space, his secretary had told him that he would need permission or an invitation to set foot in Suparco.

On Thursday, around 61 public schools participated in a water rocket competition to build them in two hours at the commission. Water rockets are a well-known medium for teaching students about the principles of rocket science. Tanzeelur Rehman, an eighth grade student from Usman Public School, was confident that he would win. “If I get a certificate, it will add to my academic portfolio and when I apply to college, it will work in my favour,” he said while talking about studying engineering in a university abroad.

A quiz was also held for students of public and private schools, more than 50 students participated and made it to the qualifying round. The final competition will be held at PAF Museum during the Space Family Fair on October 7. Among their many events to celebrate space week, Suparco has also set up a Space Education Bus, which will go around the province teaching people about space through multimedia presentations and lectures till October 6.

In Jamshoro, Suparco will celebrate World Space Week by organising events on October 9 and October 10 at the Mehran University of Engineering and Technology. On Tuesday, they will hold a declamation contest and a water rocket competition. On Wednesday, they will hold a mela at the university’s auditorium.

From outer space?

While talking about Suparco, Dr Sajid Mirza, who works for the commission, said that the national space agency was working on a multidisciplinary space science and application programme for students.

“We have worked with the Institute of Tibetan Plateau to measure the impact of climate change in the region, especially in Gilgit-Baltistan,” he said. “The way the glaciers are melting, it can affect our water supply, agriculture, hydroelectric power, transport, tourism and ecological habitats. This is important because our country depends on irrigation and water resources for 90% of its food and crop production.” He added that Suparco’s space application and research wing was also carrying out a satellite-based a crop yield estimation project.

Published in The Express Tribune,

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