Uganda’s Gorillas Vs Space Tourism

I have observed the uncoordinated approach being put into promoting Uganda’s tourism with the latest being the signing up of a one Zari as the country’s tourism ambassador. This came shortly after the much publicised visit of Kanye West and his family.

First and foremost, I am left wondering which would be a better catch for tourists to visit Uganda. Is the Kardashian wannabe in the form of Zari a better prospect to bring them on than a community of pygmies leading their lives in the environs of the mountain gorillas? The former is largely an actress making a very big effort to impress while the latter are all natural and as authentic as they get. I leave the conclusion on this to you.



Baby Mountain Gorilla chilling with its mother. Bwindi Forest, Uganda. Photo Credit: Vincent Mugaba

However, as usual, as my mind wandered off to Uganda in 2090, I asked myself, will this tourism of seeking visitors that want to see wild animals, view birds, climb mountains etc still be the in-thing? There is an attempt of late to even tap heavily into the upscale tourists market in order to get premium visitors into the country.

I am sorry to say this but apart from earning salaries for today and probably scoring cheap short term achievements, there doesn’t seem to be a serious futuristic plan (three decades and beyond) for tourism as an integral player in the local economy.

Some countries like China and the USA are already constructing facilities that can house most of the wild life that we boast of and this shall most likely drastically reduce visits of tourists interested in game watching if nothing changes in our offering. The greatest impact will be on the mass low end slipper wearing and hiking tourists whose dollars are significant due to their large numbers. They probably might prefer to visit the new retrofitted zoos in their home countries that give them an African experience.

It is strange to see that nothing is being talked about as regards Space Tourism and interplanetary travel. I know anything to do with matters beyond the Earth’s atmosphere elicits a lot of ignorance among Ugandans and this does not spare the working class and elites. There is a sad silence on matters to do with Space as many professionals meant to plan for the future of this nation spend time scampering around to acquire wealth in all manner of ways without ever thinking of how they should secure a prosperous Uganda for their great grand children.

If Uganda is to remain a key player in the tourism industry, it has to warm up to the coming Space Age. Defined as, “the practise of travelling into space for recreational purposes,” Space Tourism is the next big thing. Man has conquered land and the next frontier provoking our imagination is Space.

In April 2001, Dennis Tito an American Engineer and multimillionaire was the first space tourist to venture into space at a whooping US$ 20 Million. Using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, he spent 7 days 22 hours and orbited the earth 128 times with two Russian Cosmonauts.

Shortly after, in 2002, Mark Shuttleworth the first African space tourist followed suit. The brain behind Canonical the proprietors of Ubuntu Linux Operating system, Mark is a highly accomplished South African businessman who sold his digital certificate company Thawte Consulting for close to US$ 575 Million to Verisign in 1999. He spent eight days at the International Space Station. This same guy in 2006 visited Uganda as a special guest at a technology workshop that yours truly helped organise in Kalangala.

Since his space visit, a handful of other space tourists have accomplished the feat generating a lot of excitement about the potential of touring space.

Someone may ask, what is special about going to space?

Edgar Mitchell, an Apollo 14 astronaut said, “From out there on the Moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’”

The view of the earth from space is regarded as a very breath taking one, slide in the weightlessness as a result of zero gravity and you have an out of this world experience. While in space, you have no direction you can call down or up because your body rotates all over the place like a free flowing ballon in the air.

For freshly married couples, the possibility of honeymooning on the moon shall soon be a reality after hotels and other settlements are built there. With technologies like 3D printing this shall be very possible in the not so distant future. Mars is another prospect for settlement for colonisation by man and it is considered an even better option for habitation. While travel times are currently lengthy with six months being the shortest possible time to make it on a oneway trip, the experience of being in space on a 500 Million Kilometre journey (do I see your jaw drop?) travelling at an average speed of 97,000 Km/hour is freaky yet exciting to say the least.

You have initiatives like the Aurora Station which is a hotel planned to be located in orbit 200 miles above the earth. It’s hoped to go live in 2021 and a 12 day stay shall have a starting cost of US$ 9.5 Million which is much less than the US$ 20 Million that other space tourists have paid in the past. This is a sign that the costs while still high currently are going to drastically drop in the next decade or so. Guests a the hotel shall have access to high speed wireless internet, so your WhatsApp and Facebook Live won’t be missed.

One of the things I fancy most as a Christian is attending a church service in Space. That can definitely be such a marvel. Imagine the pastor preaching without a pulpit while floating freely within the congregation which has to equally float, twist and turn to keep him/her in sight. Wow!!!

The United Arab Emirates launched the Mars 2117 which is a 100 year project whose aim is to establish the first colony on Mars within that time. Scientific research on techniques like Terraforming is making Mars a much more realistic prospect for settlement within the next fifty years.

The eventual winner in tourism is likely to be an opportunity to explore the Solar System and tour planets like Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Venus among others. With current technologies, this would be a one way trip with no prospect of ever returning. However, research into Faster than Light Travel, Wormholes and Blackholes could easily open up travel through the vast expanse of the universe to humanity. This for example could enable a tourist reach Kepler-186f an earth like planet 557 light years away (Multiply that figure by 9.5 Trillion Kms to get the equivalent distance in Kilometres) within a few minutes. This planet is human habitable and has red instead of green plants. Want to know why? Get ready to visit.

Back to Uganda’s tourism push, if we can’t be part of this action in space, we should consider the Tourism industry as one of those that are likely to become extinct or remain a refuge for the locals only. It’s not too late though for us to keep up with the times. There are a number of opportunities we can tap into that shall keep us relevant in the Space Tourism age. One of the most notable ones is the construction of a Spaceport.

A spaceport is a site for launching or receiving spacecraft. It has the capability to launch spacecraft into orbit around the earth or onto interplanetary trajectories.

Why is Uganda ideal for a Spaceport?

The earth is always spinning around on its axis and without noticing it, we the inhabitants are also spinning at the same speed that it does wherever we are located on the earth. Anything or anyone situated at the equator is moving at a speed of 1670 Km/hour while those located midway between the poles and the equator are moving at a slower speed of about 1180 Km/hour. The speed keeps reducing as you go further to the poles.

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 15.04.22

Illustration of the speed differences in the Earth’s rotation. Picture Credit –

You’re probably wondering how true this can be? Well, imagine this, get three spots; one at the pole, another midway between the pole and the equator and a third one at the equator. When the earth makes a complete revolution, each returns to its original position in the same 24 hours. Due to the shape of the earth being round with its widest section at the equator, the spot at the equator definitely moves many more kilometres than its counterpart spots at the pole or midway between the pole and the equator. This then confirms that the land at the equator moves faster than at any other place on the earth.

Launch of spacecrafts is a very expensive affair thanks to the current expensive technologies of petroleum fuel propulsion that we have to contend with. It costs SpaceX US$ 62 Million to launch the Falcon 9 rocket each time while the Falcon Heavy costs US$ 90 Million to launch. In fuel requirements, the Falcon 9 needs 409,000 litres of fuel to launch. Launching a spacecraft follows the principle of making sure that it travels fast enough to avoid being dragged back by the earth’s gravitational force through what is termed as achieving escape velocity.

With that background, it is clear that the spin of the earth can give the rocket launch an advantage. If a rocket is at the equator, even before firing, it already has a speed of 1670 Km/hr. The net effect of this is a drop in launch costs, especially on fuel.

Uganda being at the equator has all it takes to offer this added advantage and host Africa’s only cost effective Spaceport. The spillover effect of this facility could entail:

  • Turning Uganda into a one stop place in Africa for launching and operating spacecraft.

  • The emergence of technically qualified personnel in the growing field of spacecraft engineering

  • The design of new training courses at universities aimed at meeting the human resource demand at the Spaceport and its suppliers.

  • Numerous jobs created.

  • Tourist gateway to Space among others.

So, to the honchos directing Uganda’s tourism industry, Amos Wekesa, John Ssempebwa, Stephen Asiimwe and others, it is time you refined your creative juices to plan for Tourism Uganda in 2090. Your unborn descendants shall be proud of you.

James Wire is a Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda
@wirejames on Twitter.
lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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