Construction of the observatory was the result of work initiated by the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS), founded 10 years ago to address the lack of space science activity and interest in Ethiopia.
At the ESSS’s inception, “most Ethiopian politicians were not ready for space science,” said Abinet Ezra, communications director for the ESSS, adding how initially it had to import telescopes from the U.S., until unfavorable foreign exchange rates became prohibitive. Eventually staffers at the ESSS managed to get their message home.
“Ethiopian politicians have recognized the role space science can play in helping Ethiopia’s development and are supporting generating investment in the country’s new observatories and space program,” Ezra said.
Ethiopia is not alone in Africa when it comes to playing catch-up in the realm of space science technology. So far, only a handful of African countries — South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco — have fully functioning space programs that have managed to get satellites into space.
“Science development is not easy in Africa,” Belay said. “Science needs political visibility. Otherwise, it is not deemed important enough or allocated a budget.” Too often in the past, he said, the economic strategies of African countries weren’t linked to science and technology, with attention instead given to small-scale agriculture. “But now developing countries are pushing to start space programs.”
The Entoto Observatory seeks to address the fact that currently very little astronomy is taught in sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa. In September 2014 it started facilitating master’s and doctoral training in astronomy and astrophysics, space science and earth observation.
In 2014 scientists from universities in the U.S., Europe and Africa visited and independently evaluated the quality and standards of the curricula, according to international criteria.
“This is exciting for the region because other African countries have to send people to observatories in South Africa and Europe, but now they will be able to send them here,” said Josef Huber, a systems engineer with German-based Astelco Systems, which built and installed Entoto’s telescopes.