Career options that are "out of this world"
Hartebeesthoek, 6 June 2012. Unemployment and education are the main issues that concern South Africa's youth, according to a recent survey of 5 000 young people between the ages of 15 and 34 years.
On 31 May this year, the Space Operations and Earth Observation directorates of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) participated in Cell C's Take a Girl Child to Work initiative. Aimed at exposing young girls to the "world of work", this initiative is also helping to address the issues that concern our youth as two of the nine challenges identified by Trevor Manuel's National Planning Commission earlier this year.
SANSA's regular participation in this annual event supports the need to expose girls to the reality of the work environment, as well as provide them with career information and a sense of empowerment in the decisions that they make about their future careers. Receiving these groups at Hartebeesthoek is aligned with SANSA's human capital development mandate and supports the outreach programme at Space Operations to create awareness among learners about careers in the exciting field of space science and technology.
This year, 21 girls from three secondary schools in Nelspruit – the Lihawu, Thembeka and Bonginhlanhla Senior Secondary Schools – arrived at Hartebeesthoek eager to find out more about SANSA and its Space Operations and Earth Observation activities.
According to Gladys Magagula, the group's host during their visit, "as women in a so-called 'male-dominated' field, young girls should be made aware of the challenges ahead if they choose a career in space science, engineering and technology. Introducing them to the scope of work with visits to places such as Hartebeesthoek will empower them to make informed decisions about their future careers." Magagula qualified as South Africa's first female mission control specialist with a postgraduate diploma in engineering and a Master's degree in engineering science.
"At SANSA Space Operations, we cater for a wide range of career paths," says Magagula, who was part of the team responsible for the post-launch operation of SumbandilaSat, South Africa's own, locally manufactured pathfinder satellite. "Learners are often unaware of the many career options available in space-based fields and contrary to popular belief, not all are engineering-directed and science-specific."
The girls participated in an event-filled day that started with breakfast and a presentation on the activities of SANSA and its Space Operations and Earth Observation directorates. This was followed by interaction and discussions with a number of female staff members at the tracking station.
The visitors had the opportunity to ask questions, which initiated interesting conversations. According to Raoul Hodges, Managing Director of SANSA Space Operations, "the girls' enthusiasm about space-related careers and questions about aliens were interesting and refreshing."
The group also toured the Hartebeesthoek facility, notably the more than 20 antennas with their dishes moving at different angles as they 'listened' to the signals from passing satellites in geostationary orbits, 36 000 km above the Earth's atmosphere. The visit concluded with lunch and a photo session against a backdrop of antennas and some of the resident herd of Blesbokke at the site; and a quick tour of the co-located Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO).
"We hope they have a better understanding of what a career in space science, engineering and technology entails and the important contribution they can make to the country and encourage every one of them to follow their dreams.
Were they to do that, we are convinced that once qualified and working in the field, these girls will excel," concluded Magagula.