Ghana's Rocket Man|
Ave Kludze never imagined he would command a Nasa
On the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, BBC
News asks one of Africa's pioneering scientists, Dr Ave Kludze, of the US space
agency Nasa what inspired his stellar career and what he thinks of the standard
of science teaching in Africa today.
"As a young boy I was always very curious. My parents
didn't like to leave me at home alone, because they knew I would dismantle the
radio. Even at my friends' houses, I would try to take the television apart, to
find out how it worked.
But my life changed the first time I went to the airport in Accra. I saw an
aeroplane landing and taking off. I knew then that I wanted to be pilot.
From that day, everything I read was scientific. At school, I read science
subjects. My father wanted me to be a lawyer. But he supported my ambitions. So
I was lucky. But then, when I was 17, I found out that I could not fulfil my
dream. I could not become a pilot. The reason was that my brother, my father and
my mother all wore glasses. This implied that, one day, I would wear glasses
too. And indeed I do. I was very disappointed.
I decided to channel my energy elsewhere - into engineering. I studied
electrical engineering in the US, at Rutgers University, New Jersey.
The Calipso satellite, developed with Dr Kludze's help, launched in 2006 My
intention was to return to Ghana, so I started to focus my mind on using solar
energy to power appliances: Solar fridges, solar fans, solar freezers - solar
The sun is for free, so I believe we have to use it in Africa. We have to work
with the resources we have. But instead of working on solar panels in Ghana, I
got a job with Nasa, developing and flying spacecraft.
I never imagined I would have the opportunity to work for Nasa. Not with my
background. I remember watching the Challenger incident - when the shuttle
disintegrated. I visited the "American Centre", in Ghana, where I watched the
tragedy on the news. Afterwards I wrote to Nasa and they replied to me. They
sent me pictures and documents on some of their spacecraft and I put them on my
wall. I still have these pictures today.
Now many years later, I have worked at Nasa headquarters, in Washington, as a
requirements manager. I help Nasa to take strategic decisions. President
[George] Bush outlined his vision that Nasa would go back to the Moon by 2020,
so the agency is working towards that. I am working on the communication systems
the astronauts will use on the Moon, and on Mars.
The Calipso satellite, developed with
Dr Kludze's help, launched in 2006
They will send back pictures live. I have to make sure we don't leave out any
requirements. Things have moved on a long way from Apollo. I have flown several
spacecraft - including the Calipso satellite. But I was not in orbit - I flew
them from the ground, using robotic controls at the Nasa control centre.
People ask me: What has Nasa done for Africans? But many of them have cell
phones - which were developed with Nasa technology. The cars they drive and the
glasses they wear - all of these have benefited from Nasa technology. It
trickles down to the ordinary man. Nasa is not only concerned with space. We
develop technologies for aeroplanes. And our way of developing systems applies
to all kinds of engineering projects. If you had a water project, for
agriculture, Nasa technology could make your project more efficient. I think the
younger generation in Ghana today have more opportunities than I did to become
Ave's Fight Path
- 1966: Born in Hohoe, Ghana
- 1978: Attends Adisadel College, Cape
- 1989: Studies electrical engineering at
Rutgers University, USA
- 1995: Hired by Nasa
- 2004: Helps develop the Extravehicular
Activity Infrared (EVA IR) camera for space-walking
- 2006: Becomes technical adviser to Nasa
Office of the Inspector General
- 2006: Launch of the Calipso environmental
satellite, for which Dr Kludze was a systems engineer
Dr Kludze has "flown" Calipso from a Nasa control centre
I first saw a computer in the USA. Today, the younger generation have access to
the internet - they can get any information they want. The education I received
in Ghana was very sound - it served me remarkably well at Rutgers. But where
African schools have a problem, is that they focus heavily on theory, whereas
[universities] focus on the practical - solving real world problems. If we can
bring that practical element into African schools, then we have a lot of
brilliant young minds who will benefit.
When I was growing up it was difficult for science drop-outs and those students
who were unable to further their education. There were few avenues for them to
become useful members of society using their acquired scientific knowledge. They
ended up doing other jobs.
But times have changed. In Ghana, I understand they are encouraging pupils to
pursue science. But the question is: After you graduate, do you have the
necessary resources to go further? When I grew up in Ghana, we ploughed the
fields using cattle and hoes. The last time I went home, we were still using
them. So where are our engineers? We need the governments to invest in
technology. Then the educational institutes can follow. When I grew up, my
scientific role models were not Africans.
I admired people like Albert Einstein. I was amazed that he could be on our
planet and yet he could tell us about different planets. But today I know many
successful African scientists. People like my friend Dr Ohene Frempong, of the
Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP). He works on sickle cell anaemia.
There are others who have done very well. What are my remaining ambitions? Well,
I don't plan to go into space. I will leave that to the younger generation. I
will continue contributing to President Bush's vision - to go to the Moon, to
Mars, and beyond."
Webmaster's Note: The above profile appeared on the
BBC website on Thursday Feb 12. 2009:
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