Committee Report on International Astronautical Conference

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Trade and Industry

01 March 2017
Chairperson: Ms J Fubbs (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Documents handed out:
Committee Report on International Astronautical Conference
[All Committee Reports available under Tabled Committee Reports once published]

The Committee on Trade and Industry was mandated to attend the Astrononautical Conference which was hosted in a different country every year. The 2016 edition of the conference was attended by the Committee and the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology, Ms L Maseko (ANC). The Committee Secretary of the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry presented a well-researched article on space travel. Sustainable industrial and human capital development, together with international co-operation were amongst the themes that were discussed at the conference. South Africa was an emerging space exploration nation and one of the great achievements for South Africa was the establishment of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

The first such conference was held in 2009. The aeronautical village in Centurion justified South Africa’s attendance at these conferences. Mexico’s space agency was making great progress and it was not justified that Mexico be viewed in the negative light that certain Presidents viewed the country. One of the practical benefits of developing a space programme was that weather issues, such as the floods in the northern part of the country and the current drought in the Western Cape could be identified before they occurred and mitigating steps could be taken in order to reduce the impact of such occurrences

More nations were getting involved in space exploration and there was an increase in the involvement of private actors. Partnerships between the government and the private sector such as Space X in space exploration was an important step that nations should seriously consider.  Countries should also seriously consider establishing partnership between themselves as well in order to move away from a nationalist perspective of space exploration and make it a human being adventure. The Mexico conference was a brilliant eye opener and Members got to meet astronauts that had been to the moon.

South Africa should play a part in advancing agricultural, aerospace, medical technology communications and other fields through space exploration because there was room for development through space exploration. The nation was already playing a large role in space exploration through the work carried out by SKA and MeerKAT. A lot of the material that was used in facilitating space travel was manufactured in South Africa. The manner in which business was done in Parliament should be reviewed and a joint sitting of committees should be a permanent situation with regards to space exploration.
 

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Chairperson opened the meeting by stating that the Committee on Trade and Industry was mandated to attend the Astronomical Congress. The congress was hosted in a different country every year. The 2016 edition was held in Brazil and was attended by representatives of this Committee and the Committee on Science and Technology. As a result, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology, Ms L Maseko (ANC), was in attendance of the congress and would also be attending the meeting today.

All Members were reminded of the need to send in written apologies. If this requirement was not met, such a Member would be recorded as absent. Mr D Macpherson (DA) questioned whether the procedure of reporting members that did not attend three consecutive meetings without a written apology would be reported to either the Ethics Committee or the Speaker of Parliament would still be upheld. He requested that this procedure should be upheld because non-attendance seriously compromised the work of Parliament. The Chairperson responded that she would have to confirm whether the queried process was the official procedure and give an answer before the beginning of the next meeting. Members were however strongly urged to send in written apologies by the Chairperson in order to ensure that no quorum issues would arise.

Mr Tenda Madima, Committee Secretary, attended the meeting in Mexico and presented a paper on educational outreach for the African child in space.  This paper was well received. Committee Members were encouraged to engage in writing articles in their capacity as Members of Parliament. The practice of writing such papers was good for the country’s reputation said the Chairperson.

Committee Report on International Astronautical Conference

The Chairperson presented the Mexico report and stated that sustainable, industrial and human capital development, together with international co-operation were amongst the themes that were discussed at the conference. She said that South Africa was a country that had separate agencies, one that regulated and the other that carried on the day to day running of science and technology without necessarily identifying the agencies. It was also realised that South Africa was an emerging space exploration nation and one of the great achievements for South Africa was the establishment of SKA, the fire mapping service.

The inaugural conference for Parliamentarians was held in 2009. Parliamentarians were invited thereto because Parliament held the legislative mandate of Government. Attendance of the 2016 conference was important to South Africa because there was in existence an aeronautical village in Centurion which was not confirmed to be operational at this meeting. South Africa was exporting components used in the manufacture of space aircraft and this was a very important development.

The Chairperson mentioned that Mexico’s space agency was making great progress and it was not justified that Mexico be viewed in the negative light that certain Presidents viewed the country. The use of space as a tool for decision makers and the exchange of ideas were central issues that were discussed at the conference. One of the practical benefits of developing a space program was that weather issues, such as the floods in the northern part of the country and the current drought in the Western Cape could be identified before they occur and mitigating steps could be taken in order to reduce the impact of such occurrences. Exploration of space was an enabler of several industries for example local government, logistics and manufacturing.

The space sector was in transition and new user demands were identified. More nations were getting involved and there was an increase in the involvement of private actors such as the South African National Elon Musk who was not resident in South Africa at the moment but however expressed an interest in coming to South Africa. Partnerships between the government and the private sector such as Space X in space exploration were an important step that South Africa should seriously consider. The first human crew to Mars was scheduled to be launched by the international community in the year 202. The development costs for that mission were estimated to be USD10 billion which was approximately R130 billion.

South Africa was viewed as a great country; however there was need to establish better cohesion with other African countries. There was a need to avoid being nationalistic about space technology and nations should work in collaboration to be one united international force. There may be a need to revise the education curriculum in order to include the geography of space. This was emphasized as well by the fourth industrial revolution. There was a sterling effort to get younger people from the developing world more involved in the learning activities focused around space.  As a result, the Departments of Science and Technology and Trade and Industry were offering internships for the study of space exploration.

All nations needed to be an intrinsic part of the development of space exploration. The biased governance of international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that were established as a result of the vanquishers of World War II should not be allowed to become established practices in the establishment of a space agency. More young people should be involved in the next conference that would be held from 25 to 29 September 2017 in Australia.

Recommendations

Ms L Maseko (ANC), Chairperson from the Portfolio Committee on Science and Technology, said that notification of the current meeting was delivered late to their Committee. The poor attendance from their Committee was a result of that. However, the Mexico conference was a brilliant eye opener. Collins Adrian, an astronaut who has been to the moon, attended the conference as well. The international community showed high interest in the South African stall and the presentation by Mr Madima assisted in drawing this high level of attention. When the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) made presentations to Parliament it should be done to a joint committee sitting such as this one.

The Chairperson reiterated the importance of expanding the delegation to more than the Department of Trade and Industry. Departments such as Rural Development dealt with issues that were relevant in the space exploration context. The social development aspects that were addressed by space exploration were enormous.

Mr D Macpherson (ANC) said the country was lagging behind when there was a lot to offer. He referred to a six part series which he thought was produced by the National Geographic channel called “Mars”. This series discussed the challenges faced by humans in establishing a colony in Mars. He argued that there would be colonization by human beings of other planets in his life time. South Africa should play a part in advancing agricultural, aerospace, medical technology communications and other fields through space exploration. His recommendation was, through innovation and discovery, the country could play a larger role in space exploration and should encourage people from all walks of life to get involved.

Mr N Koornhof (ANC) said South Africa was already playing a large role in space exploration. This was evident from the work carried out by SKA and MeerKAT. South Africa was already a leader amongst nations such as Australia. He did not think that there would be a colony on other planets but exploration already went further than Mars and the hope would be to meet other life forms in outer space. The invitation to go to this conference was arranged haphazardly and it was not enough to send one member from Science and Technology. Science and Technology should be better represented at this event.

The Chairperson lamented that the Parliament support staff did not do their jobs sufficiently and should be reported to their superiors.  South Africa may not mount an expedition to Mars as a single nation but she should seriously consider being part of an expedition through creating adequate partnerships with other nations. The inter-ministerial interventions that would arrange for such expedition should report to this Committee and if there was no such inter-ministerial intervention at the moment, one should be established. The involvement of youth should not be understated with obvious regard to the financial constraints. A lot of the material that was used in facilitating space travel was manufactured in South Africa. The manner in which business was done in parliament should be reviewed and a joint sitting of committees should be a permanent situation with regards to space exploration.

The Chairperson called for the adoption of the report. The report for the 7th international meeting for parliamentarians as part of the 67th International Astronautical Congress held in Mexico was adopted as proposed by Mr D Macpherson (DA) and seconded by Mr N Koornof (ANC).

The meeting was adjourned.

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