CAIRO: On his first visit to Egypt, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Administrator, Charles Bolden, called for using space science and technology to bridge cultural gaps.
In a lecture at the American University in Cairo’s (AUC) downtown campus on June 15, Bolden explained that space science brings together experts with similar interests but of different backgrounds.
His visit is building on United States’ President Barack Obama’s New Beginning Initiative to promote cooperation and understanding between the west and the Middle East.
Bolden explained that, “International cooperation is an intrinsic and essential aspect of space exploration,” and that NASA’s advancements were more easily accomplished due to their research partners in over 100 countries around the globe.
While Egypt is not yet part of any agreement, Bolden is hopeful that education and close ties will make that possible.
Alaa Ibrahim, visiting assistant professor of physics at AUC, and a part of the team that organized the event, said, “Our aim is to raise competence in the junior Egyptian scientists and link them with the international community, and train them in the use of data from NASA space missions.”
A four-day workshop titled “Space Technology and Geo-information for Sustainable Development,” which started June 14, involved scientists and officials from Egypt and the US working closely with 20 graduate students and some undergraduates from AUC, Cairo and Helwan University on ways to use space technology to improve life on earth.
“[This] was triggered by [prominent Egyptian-American scientist Farouk El-Baz’s] visit to the Cairo Science Festival,” said Ibrahim. “We wanted to have a new research group that works in close coordination with him and NASA as well.”
According to Ibrahim, the most distinguished of these students will travel to the United States in August to visit the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University, of which El-Baz is director.
Bolden, who also participated in the workshop, urged Egyptian students to approach their universities and government with ideas and research topics they think is relevant to the growth of space technology and the promotion of international cooperation.
However, his suggestions weren’t well received by some students. “I think he’s bluffing. It’s just part of their propaganda,” Samaa Arafa, an AUC electronics-engineering student said.
“He was just continuing Obama’s speech, that’s all. I don’t think the cooperation is going to happen.”
Mustapha Zain, a student at Ain Shams University, said the administrator was not clear enough about how the cooperation between Egypt and NASA would happen.
“He was more focused on telling us to excel. Even when people asked him how they can apply to work for NASA, he said we need to try and establish a space agency in Egypt,” Zain said, “But I don’t think there are that many people interested in space travel. People in Egypt have other problems to distract them from such things.”
Bolden, a former NASA astronaut, thinks otherwise, believing that “every nation should have a space station.” He said he hopes to bring more co-workers back to Egypt and have Egyptian students visit the US in order to “expand the partnership” opportunities.
“We are here to help students enrich their studies,” Bolden said, trying to encourage Egyptian students to establish a strong Egyptian space agency.
During his speech, he also hailed NASA’s activities.
“NASA is not only a space exploration agency, but also an earth improvement agency,” he said, as he addressed the audience on the communal benefits of space exploration for the earth as a whole.
According to Bolden, NASA’s developments in space exploration and technology helped improve research in several fields, including archaeology, geology, and climate studies among other things.
Natural phenomena like desert and tropical storms, volcanoes, and forest fires said Bolden, are more easily monitored and thereby managed with the help of NASA satellites.
Bolden assumed his duties as the 12th administrator of NASA last year. He leads the NASA team and manages its resources to advance the agency’s missions and goals.