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[WINDHOEK] Namibian science received a boost last month when China's first man in space, Yang Liwei, visited the country as part of a delegation to the China Space Tracking, Telemetry and Command Station, which Namibia hopes will lift its development effort.

The visit, by six astronauts and space officials from the Chinese manned space programme, was their first to Africa, according to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The group attended the opening of an exhibition hall at the station, which lies on the edge of the desert in the coastal town of Swakopmund, and also helped open Namibia Science Week a few days later (5 July).

The station is part of a global network of flight control centres that monitors communications with Chinese spacecraft orbiting the Earth or re-entering the atmosphere.

Namibia hopes that hosting the station will help it learn how to use space technology for development applications, according to Alfred van Kent, director of research, science and technology  at the Namibian Ministry of Education.

By 2015, the country could have its own technicians operating the centre, he said.

"Namibia is not starting a space programme, but we hope to add work relevant to us at this Chinese centre."

Such work will include the use of remote sensing technology to detect minerals and water reserves, land and town planning, agricultural surveys, and disaster and flood management, said Natascha Cheikhyoussef , science and technology officer at the Ministry of Education.

Namibia also hosts the High Energy Stereoscopic System, a gamma ray detection system owned by Germany's Max Planck Institute.

Van Kent said that these centres also have considerable technological spin-offs for Namibia, such as expertise in supercomputers, engineering and design skills, sensor development, advanced communication systems and robotics.

"Mastering this knowledge can make our development efforts much more effective," he said.

Since 2008, 11 Namibians have studied space science and technology in China under a bilateral agreement. Six are now enrolled in masters degrees, including Ebenhezer Kauhonina , whose own research is in satellite networking.

"We started training in China in basic space technology and are now continuing our studies in Namibia, both at the tracking centre in Swakopmund and at the science departments of different universities. The aim is to create capacity to use space technology for the benefit of Namibia," Kauhonina told SciDev.Net.