NASA visits Hermanus

From left to right: Dr Jeff Hoffman, Dr Robert Williams, Dr Gordon McCloud, Prof. Charles McGruder



An astronaut from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)held public lectures during a visit to Hermanus on 13 November 2010. The astronaut, Dr Jeff Hoffman, was accompanied by Dr Robert Williams, President of the International Astronomical Union, and Prof. Charles McGruder of Western Kentucky University.

They are visiting South Africa to increase awareness of science though astronomy. This is a timely visit considering that Africa is bidding to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope.  If Africa wins the bid to host the SKA this would mean an investment of about $15 billion in Africa over 50 years.  The majority of the investment would go to South Africa.  As part of the bid, South Africa is building the Karoo Array Telescope (MeerKAT), which will be a world class telescope in its own right.

Dr Hoffman, who became an astronaut in 1979, was assigned to the shuttle space flight missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). This is regarded as one of the most successful telescopes ever built in terms of recognition by the public. Dr Hoffman was also one of the four spacewalking astronauts for the first HST servicing mission in 1993. He last flew on the Shuttle Columbia. In his five space flights, Hoffman has logged more than 1 211 hours in space and travelled more than 34,6 million km.

Dr Williams(President of the International Astronomical Union) is tasked with growing astronomy interest internationally, and arranges public lecture tours by NASA astronauts.  Prof. McGruder is an astronomer who will give public lectures on the science of the SKA.

Lectures were given in five South African cities (Pretoria, Kimberley, Bloemfontein, Durban and Hermanus).

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