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South Africa’s involvement in the Space Science started at the dawn of the “Space Age”. Before this, South Africa had been involved in astronomy since 1820, when the first permanent astronomical observatory (and scientific institution) in the southern hemisphere was completed at the Cape of Good Hope. Despite this rich history, South Africa has unfortunately, for various reasons, not been able to fully exploit the benefits of space technology and its applications to meet the challenges—it faces. One reason in particular is lack of awareness and understanding by planners, decision-makers and users about the potential benefits of space technology in planning and implementation of socio-economic development plans. In recent years, South Africa has made the development and cultivation of a domestic space industry a priority, citing the critical roles that space science, technology and innovation play in economic growth and socio-economic development. However, to ensure a long-term viable space programme and a growing space industry, it is imperative that South Africa builds the necessary capacity to support such an industry—hence, the need to create awareness and an appreciation for STEM-based careers at all levels of society which, for our school-going population, is likely to translate into an increase in the uptake and appreciation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In South Africa, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) plays a leading role in the implementation of space science and technology activities. Current space-related projects include the Satellite Build Programme; Operation Phakisa and the CubeSats Development Programme. There are also a number of local programmes and initiatives to promote space education and awareness. These are initiated, supported and implemented by various organizations, from the DST and its agencies through to the private sector and industry, as well as non-governmental and non-profit organizations. With regard to reaching out to schools, the DST conducts Space Weeks and other science festivals, as well as numerous initiatives by the local Radio Amateurs Clubs working with schools on high-altitude ballooning projects. Nonetheless, it has been noted that although there are much effort and resources expended on STEM awareness, there is notable lack of its intended impact. The role of educators/teaching staff will therefore be addressed focusing on their contribution to the goals of such STEM programmes. This paper discusses the various space-based STEM programmes that have been put in place to promote space education awareness and the contribution made by various role players. Furthermore, this paper will showcase a concept for a new approach to space awareness activities and its potential to drive STEM awareness programmes in the country. Lastly, this paper aims to recognize the achievements of South Africa in promoting space education and awareness in the country and the related issues and impediments to pursue these programmes. The paper also emphasizes the importance of introducing space education programmes in schools not only for the children but for the teachers in particular.
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- Space Education and Awareness in South Africa—Programmes, Initiatives, Achievements, Challenges and Issues
S. G. Magagula
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