Launched from a farm land far away from the city life, old Ovaltine cans served as building materials for the rocket he tried to use to send a mouse to space. This was one of the many attempts made by self-acclaimed Congolese space/rocket scientist Jean- Patrice Keka Ohemba Okese.
Troposphere: From Congo to Outer Space
“Troposphere” is a Congolese rocket project established in 2007 by Jean- Patrice Keka Ohemba Okese at the DTA (Développement Tous Azimuts).
Mr Keka studied Ballistics in the university but trades in copper and medical equipment for a living. According to The Wall Street journal, he claimed he dabbled into construction of space crafts because his job didn’t engage him intellectually.
His interest in space travel and rocket science began when he was a teenager and was reported to have launched a rocket powered by hundreds of shaved -off matchstick heads. He was later kept in police custody where he was allowed into a military library; there he read about ballistic rocketry.
His laboratory made from tin sheets is situated in an old farmland where several old televisions, computers and floppy disks occupy most of the space. He employed about 30 graduates to work in his laboratory and a soldier to guard the laboratory. The father of four has so much faith and belief in science.
After Many Failed Attempts
Mr Keka named his projects TROPOSPHERE and he has made five attempts at launching a rocket into space, out of which only two were successful.
His first attempt was a disaster as the fuel compartment was drenched in rain and could not ignite. The second, troposphere 2 was successful and reached an altitude of 1500m(1.5km). It was launched in 2007.
The third attempt was also a failure, He abandoned the third Troposphere after his ground-control shed, which he named Centre de Recherche Aérospatiale, or Aerospace Research Centre, was burglarised. It still sits on its rusting Launchpad.
Troposphere 4 is the second successful rocket launched by Mr. Keka. It was launched in July, 2008. It rose for 10 miles.
The latest of his invention, troposphere 5 was launched in 2009. According to Drew Hinshaw, a reporter at Wall Street Journal, Troposphere 5 was a 1,576-pound, two-stage solid-fuel rocket designed to climb 23 miles. On board were computers to send back video, GPS data and flight readings—and a rat, caught from the wild, in the Ovaltine-can passenger pod.
The rocket however went off-course and smashed into a rock. Although the rocket was furnished with an escape chute, the rat which he named KAVIRA was never found. He stated in his website that KAVIRA was lost in the name of science. The local rat became the first Congolese animal to almost touch the stratosphere.
Troposphere 6 is Mr Keka’s current work in progress. He claimed the rocket would reach up to 200km. It is scheduled to launch at the end of 2016.
The Congolese Government
It was reported that at the initial stage, troposphere was self-funded as all attempts to secure government grants or assistance were futile. However, in 2008 when the news of his success hit the media, Congo’s science ministry flew him to United States to seek donors. He found none as the science minister did not respond to inquiries.
A cable from the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, published by WikiLeaks, refers to Mr. Keka’s request for financial help: “Post generally supports economic programs with more of a focus on poverty reduction, macroeconomic stability, or improvements to the investment climate.”
For years, he tried to persuade the government to back him. “Every time I went to see the government,” he says, “they told me that rocket science is too complicated and they don’t want a part of it.”
Africans & Innovation
Despite the developmental challenges many countries in Africa have faced over the last 2 decades, her people still demonstrate interesting projects of innovation, whether as a result of necessity or curiosity. Most of these inventions die off before they ever get a chance. Often times, the inventors are discouraged due to lack of funding or government support. Mr. Keka is a case of one among many Africans who engage in self-funded projects to bring to life what they believe in. Like Mr. Keka said in reply to the negative response to his request for donors and assistance..
“…after I launch what I’m about to launch, they are going to help me, they will see”.
[Header image]– DTA’s employees work on a rocket. Photo courtesy of Jean-Patrice Keka Ohemba Okese Via : Vice
– Wall Street Journal