Dr Phylis Makurunje is the Executive Secretary for the Space Generation Advisory Council (in support of UN space programs) based in South Africa. She is an outer space technology enthusiast, public speaker, policy influencer and upcoming entrepreneur. She has spent the past seven years working on composite materials for space rockets’ hottest components which include the nose tips, wing edges and engine nozzles. Below she shares more detail about her journey and how she looks forward to the upcoming space planes…
“The era of space technologies being viewed as abstract and far-fetched is long past. Space technologies are a part of every human being’s everyday life 360 days a year; everyone has a role to play. From internet connectivity to GPS (global positioning system); growing telehealth systems to disasters mapping; economic resources mapping to precision agriculture – it is all-encompassing. The focus is to make the technologies more extensive and less expensive.
My story with aerospace materials is a reawakened childhood dream and a feat of serendipity. When I was looking for postgraduate research opportunities, I never thought much about the area of specialisation. Of course, I wanted it to be a composite materials speciality, but I had not narrowed it to specifics. One day I met a professor of ceramics, and he happened to be looking for a student to tackle aerospace vehicle applications. I enrolled!
The question I get asked the most on international platforms is, “You do this in Africa?” It brings to mind the line by Lupita Nyong’o when she said, “No matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” Our aim has been to work on materials in a manner that contributes to the field. Nothing less. In the process, we have made important connections and collaborations; geography has never been a limitation.
My encouragement to young people is for them to participate in civic development and leadership opportunities. In this fourth Industrial Revolution era, young people’s grip and influence on information technology give incredible leverage in decision-making.
I have also learnt the value of volunteering; the lessons are invaluable. I am particularly indebted to the Space Generation Advisory Council for the opportunities to participate at the United Nations Office of the Outer Space (UNOOSA) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) platforms and projects. Examples are the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (STS-COPOUS) and the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD). My technical aspirations are on adding nuclear aerospace propulsion (power to move) to the fields of my contribution.“
Finding purpose is one of the most courageous undertakings in life, following purpose is the noblest of commitments and contributing to humanity is the highest call of fulfilling purpose.