Part of the OAD’s strategy is to coordinate global “Flagship” or “Signature” projects, which would be implemented on a much larger scale than those funded through the annual call for proposals, and funded through external fundraising. Flagships are seen as an effective means for achieving significant impact of astronomy for development over a substantial part of the world. The current Flagships and the projects under them are:
1. Sustainable, local socio-economic development through Astronomy
This Flagship aims to use an astronomical facility, such as an observatory or planetarium, as a “hub” within a small town or village to stimulate various associated socio-economic benefits for the local community. Benefits could include job creation through astronomy-related tourism; community skills development; educational programmes; stimulation of local innovation; alternative activities for youth in order to keep away from negative/harmful activities; and infrastructure development. The establishment of such a facility in close collaboration with relevant government, industry, academic and development partners, including local and traditional leadership, will ensure the sustainability of the initiative.
Astrostays utilize astronomy as a tool for community development. They are owned and operated by the community who benefit directly by offering astronomy and accompanying services. Visitors can expect a holistic program involving cultural heritage and exchange, local art & craft, indigenous folklore, sustainable living, eco-tourism, and more.
2. Science diplomacy through Astronomy: Celebrating our Common Humanity
Astronomy brings us a perspective of the beauty and scale of the universe. Most famously, Carl Sagan used this perspective to try to positively influence how people interact with their fellow human beings, and our planet, through his description of the earth as a “pale blue dot”. This project aims to take the inspiring potential of astronomy and use it to stimulate a sense of tolerance and common humanity in all parts of the world.
Pale Blue Dot
Pale Blue Dot is an education project that uses astronomy to promote a sense of global citizenship in young children. The cosmic perspective of our Earth as a pale blue dot in space is a powerful tool to stimulate solidarity, appreciation of other cultures and environmental awareness. Pale Blue Dot is led by the European Regional Office of the OAD.
It builds on the project Universe Awareness and will include hands-on educational materials for children that use photos of our Earth from space with the appropriate message about global citizenship.Learn about Pale Blue Dot
Astronomy for Mental Health
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety contributed significantly to the global burden of disease. The increase in social isolation, economic inequity, political unrest, and other stressors have only served to increase the prevalence of these illnesses in populations across the world. Moreover, the measures taken to decrease the spread of the virus such as lockdowns and restrictions on social interactions—while necessary—have drastically reduced the type and quantity of coping mechanisms available for people to take care of their mental health. In response to these problems, the project ‘Astronomy for Mental Health’ (part of the OAD Flagship on “Astronomy for Humanity”) aims to explore how various modes of astronomy, including stargazing and education, can be a viable tool for improving mental well-being.Learn about Astronomy for Mental Health
3. Knowledge and Skills for Development
This flagship focuses on the use of astronomical knowledge, and skills used in astronomy to tackle development challenges. This includes methods, techniques widely used in the field including data handling, data analysis, machine learning as well as the necessary compute facilities. Projects under the Flagship may be executed in the form of advanced educational programmes, hackathons, competitions or other original interventions that focus on knowledge transfer and/or applying these skills towards development problems.
Big Data Hackathons
The Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) and DARA Big Data (Development in Africa through Radio Astronomy) in partnership with the Inter-University Institute For DataIntensive Astronomy (IDiA) will be organizing a number of Big Data Hackathons in Africa. The hackathons are part of a multi-year program, led by OAD-DARA Big Data Fellow Dr. Nikhita Madanpall, which aims to develop data science, programming and related skills in Africa in the context of huge radio astronomy projects.
The project kicked off only a few weeks before the onset of the global pandemic. Hence, all hackathons have been virtual and organized remotely.Learn about Big Data Hackathons
The OAD has identified five flagship themes that encapsulate the idea of astronomy for development, and which have the potential for global roll-out. The selection of these themes was based on the experience gained from supporting 140 projects (and reviewing about 1000 proposals) as of Jan 2019, and with input from our regional offices around the world, as well as special OAD projects, partnerships, international trends, etc.
- Stimulating economies (e.g. astrotourism, observatories for communities, etc)
- Science diplomacy (e.g. peace, post-conflict, partnerships, policy, etc)
- Knowledge and skills from astronomy (e.g. data science, teacher training, schools, etc)
- Technology from astronomy (e.g. software, water, solar, dark skies, etc)
- Addressing inequality (e.g. gender, geographic, ability, etc)
The OAD has recruited Visiting Fellows who will work on developing each of these two flagships (desktop studies, identifying partners, investigating costs, implementation plans, potential funders, etc). The above three flagships have also been included in the latest call for proposals, seeking potential implementers of “pilots” for these flagships. Based on the work of the Visiting Fellows, these potential pilot projects will be developed further during Stage 2 of the call for proposals. All this will inform approaches to potential funders as we continue to fundraise for large scale implementation of these flagship projects.