WITH the successful landing of an unmanned exploratory rover called Curiosity rover to planet Mars, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has pushed the frontier of science, technology and space programme to a new level.
The $2.5 billion rover is on a mission to determine whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting life. The project also aims to study the Martian environment to prepare for a possible human mission there in the coming years.
After sailing 352 million miles (566 million kilometres) and eight months, Curiosity finally arrived Mars, where it will spend the next two years poking into rocks and soil in search of the essential ingredients of life. It is the most expensive and ambitious mission yet to Mars in the history of interplanetary exploration.
The curiosity rover has already sent some pictures of the planet back to earth. US President Barack Obama hail the landing as an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future.
Despite the global economic situation, this achievement, coming barely few months after the discovery of the “Higgs boson” also known as The God Particle is astonishing. The discovery of these particles has been said to be one of the greatest achievements in science, similar to the discovery of the structure of DNA.
It was a breakthrough that took over 30 years of scientific research, and £2.6bn in spending. It explains why some particles have mass, but other does not. Just few days ago, the United States air forces announce it is testing an unmanned aircraft designed to fly six times the speed of sound.
The key point is that while Nigeria is still grappling with relatively mundane issue of food, shelter, poverty and corruption, other countries are reaching deeper into the territories hitherto regarded as unreachable. These countries are pushing the boundaries and investing heavily in science and technology with realisation that these bodies of knowledge give them advantage economically and in military warfare.
There is a strong correlation between countries with technological advancement and economic prosperity. Even if Nigeria cannot send man to space, she cannot afford to cede ground or be left behind. Nigeria is ranked low on the technology achievement index (TAI), while many of Nigeria’s best brains are daily looking for greener pastures working in sensitive research institutes and universities abroad. This is a sad development.
For many years Nigeria has been operating entitlement mentality by proclaiming technology transfer as a policy for technical development. It has not worked, simply because no western power will hand over its hard earned scientific advantages.
In fairness to the Federal government, it is planning to set up fund for the 22 Federal Science and Technical Unity Colleges to improve their workshop and laboratory facilities. (According to Minister of State for Education Barrister Wike). This is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.
Many research institutes have not been able to achieve significant impact in their chosen area of research. The reason mostly given is lack of funds. While it is true that government investment in Science and Technology has been poor(less than two per cent of the yearly budget), this is a convenience excuse. The more pressing issue is the absence of passion and effective leadership to sharpen their focus to make their research effort appealing to the organised private sector.
They should not look to the government for their entire research funding. All over the world this is the gold standard. Government cannot do everything since resources are limited. They can motivate private sector by focusing on the areas of interest and need of those companies possibly agriculture, pharmaceutical and petrochemicals sectors.
Nigeria has an unenviable task of joining the rest of the world in science and technology. The sooner she starts the journey the better.