SAAO - South African Astronomical Observatory

SALT as an African Facility

SALT stands for the Southern African Large Telescope as opposed to the South African Large Telescope. The location of the project within a context of education and training in science, engineering and technology in the Southern African sub-region is meant to resonate with a number of realities. Firstly, South Africa is a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and signatory to a number of protocols that establish frameworks for co-operation and collaboration between members of the Community as they tackle their development challenges. The SADC Protocol on Education and Training is but one example. This protocol establishes a framework for cooperation in Education and Training as well as in Research and Development.

The White Paper of Science and Technology (1996) refers to the need to maintain a basic competence in "flagship" sciences such as physics and astronomy. Not to offer them, the White Paper states, would be to take the negative view of our future � the view that we are a second-class nation, chained forever to the treadmill of feeding and clothing ourselves. The size of the expenditure on the construction and operation of the SALT makes it a "Large Science" project within the context of the state of development of South Africa and the sub-region. This particular project was selected because South Africa has a long tradition of astronomy and the South African Astronomical Observatory has a well-developed infrastructure to accommodate the project with minimal investment. For geographical and climatic reasons, Southern Africa occupies a highly strategic position in global astronomy. The centre of our Galaxy passes overhead in Southern Africa, and the two nearest galaxies to our own, the Magellanic Clouds, can only be studied from the southern hemisphere. As the development agenda of the sub-region would likely preclude the construction of another such facility, this project was conceptualised right from the start as one that will serve the needs of the sub-region.

The President of South Africa, Mr Thabo Mbeki, has issued a challenge to all Africans to commit to ending Africa's marginalisation. In keeping with the President's theme of an African Renaissance, the SALT project is also Pan-African and will link to efforts in astronomy in other parts of the continent.

Scientists and engineers from Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Egypt have visited SAAO for extended periods (i.e. more than one month) for training by its staff. The SALT project will assist in widening access to training facilitated by the observatory to these and other African countries.

The following actions are envisaged to establish SALT and SAAO as African facilities:

 

  • The President of the NRF plans to organise a workshop of senior representatives of the South African education, science, engineering and technology communities to initiate discussion on how best to make the SALT and other facilities at the SAAO readily available to the African continent.
  • This national workshop will be followed by consultations at different forums in the sub-region and throughout the continent to advance the idea that the SALT and SAAO are Pan-African facilities.
  • An important means of communicating the idea of SALT and SAAO as Pan-African facilities would be the Working Group on Space Sciences in Africa (WGSSA). The WGSSA, currently co-ordinated by SAAO, seeks to promote the development of space sciences (which includes astronomy and astrophysics) in Africa by initiating and coordinating various capacity-building programmes throughout the region. A Newsletter called African Skies/Cieux Africains is produced by this Group and distributed by the United Nations to over 700 addresses, mostly within Africa.

Implementation of the Collateral Benefit plan
For the SALT Collateral Benefits Plan to work we need an implementation strategy. The strategy to secure the support and buy-in of various stakeholders, key constituencies and key communities will encompass,inter alia, the following:

  • Hold SALT Workshops to discuss the SALT Project and the SALT Collateral Benefits Plan and to involve the community as widely as possible. These Workshops should probably be held annually to discuss progress, problems and to improve the implementation. The first Workshop will be organised by the NRF.
  • Growth of SALT science community in South Africa.
  1. SALT Science/Instrumentation Workshops for South African scientists to be organised by the SALT Project Scientist.
  2. HBI Liaison person to be appointed to SALT Project team to develop research and engineering culture in HBIs.
  • Implementation of Collateral Benefits Plan with industry to be responsibility of SALT Project Manager.
  • Development of SALT science community in Africa to be the responsibility of the Director SAAO and the SAAO Science Education and Liaison Division.
  • Public outreach, science awareness, educational activities, development of science education visitor centres are all the responsibility of SAAO Science Education and Liaison Division.
  • Fund raising for science education visitor centres is the responsibility of the Director SAAO and the SAAO Science Education and Liaison Division.
  • SALT promotion, marketing, advocacy are responsibility of all SALT and SAAO personnel. Workshops will be organized to empower staff at all levels to perform these functions at appropriate levels.