Kazakhstan Continues its Tradition of Science and Innovation
The first manned spaceflight April 12, 1961 took less than two hours but its impacts still rings around the world more than 50 years later. The individual bravery of Yuri Gagarin, combined with the extraordinary vision and engineering brilliance which put him into orbit, remains a powerful symbol of how the most difficult challenges can be overcome. Space travel continues to inspire humanity to reach new heights.
It is why the traditional April 12 Cosmonautics Day has now spread beyond the former Soviet republics and is now recognised globally as the International Day of Human Space Flight. But there are few countries where the day has more resonance than in Kazakhstan, writes The Astana Times in a recent editorial.
This is not just because it was from the Baikonur Cosmodrome that Gagarin, as well as the first Sputnik four years before, started their epoch-making flights. It is also because Baikonur has played a major role in helping Kazakhstan build its own advanced space and science capability.
These resources are particularly important in today’s global knowledge economy. Last year, Kazakhstan signalled its determination, through the creation of the new Ministry of Defence and Aerospace Industry, to use them to drive the modernisation of the economy.
The aim was to bring together the expertise, which, until then, had been spread across the government. Its new focus will help strengthen hi-tech industries and boost research and development as well as help the country in ensuring its security.
It is not just in aerospace where Kazakhstan has a remarkable history. The same is true in the nuclear sphere although this time the legacy has a very dark side. Kazakhstan continues to struggle with the appalling human and environmental damage caused by nearly 500 nuclear tests – the reason why Kazakhstan has been such a powerful champion of nuclear disarmament.
But nuclear technology can be harnessed, of course, for peaceful climate change, civilian nuclear poerience, security expertise and good international relations with the world’s leading nuclear powers explains why Kazakhstan was the obvious choice to host the International Atomic Energy Agency’s uranium fuel bank. By providing low enriched uranium, the bank will enable countries to develop and fuel their own civilian power programmes without raising fears about nuclear proliferation. It has rightly been described as a global “game-changer.”
Kazakhstan’s space and nuclear track record give the country an important asset. But significant steps have also been taken to bolster the country’s science and technology potential. The establishment, for example, of Nazarbayev University as a world-class institution and Almaty’s International ITV University underlines the country’s ambitions Technological University.
This summer’s EXPO 17 in Astana on sustainable energy will also give another boost to the country’s scientific and technological fields. The decision to focus on Future Energy will see Kazakhstan host the world’s major players in this vital sector and allow ideas to be shared and new developments showcased. The pooling of scientific knowledge is also one of the main goals of the Summit on Science and Technology of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation to be hosted later this year in Astana.
EXPO’s legacy will be important as well. The latest techniques have been used in preparing the exhibition site, which will raise standards across the country’s building industry. Part of the site as well has been ear-marked as a high-tech hub and other facilities should be available to students, staff and researchers at Nazarbayev University.
Kazakhstan is also focusing on its scientists and innovators of tomorrow. International studies have shown Kazakhstan’s pupils score better in math and science than, for example, their counterparts in Germany, the U.K., the United States, Poland and Australia. It is a wonderful launch pad for the future.