Esihle Mazingi (16) from Siphamandla Secondary School in Cape Town recently took part in the Space Trek bootcamp that saw 14 young women design, build and launch their very own satellites into the atmosphere using weather balloons. Carla de klerk interviewed Esihle to hear her thoughts on the programme, STEM and the future.
Tell us a bit more about Space Trek:
I applied to Space Trek because the idea of the whole experience of being with different people and the new knowledge that I was going to gain excited me. I wanted to learn more about satellites and how they are put together, what they can do and how long they can work, but I have never built, seen or worked with satellites, so it was something completely new and exciting and I never thought I’d get to do something like this so I am really extremely glad that I was chosen.
At space Trek, I have learnt a lot of things, and I spent this whole week together with a group of other girls, and we were being taught to assemble a cricket sat which was launched later on during the week. We spent the days learning how to master skills to build the Cricket sat all while also learning to work in teams, in a very fast-paced learning environment. Most of the things we did and learnt were frustrating and we had a limited amount of time to do these things and we were feeling the pressure. The week has taught me that you can do anything you want to do.
What did you enjoy about Space Trek?
I enjoyed spending time with the girls, and learning interactively showed me that it can actually be fun to learn. I enjoyed learning how to assemble electronics, particularly the practical work that we did, because it was very different from learning in school. Instead of just reading through the textbook, we actually took the time to learn the aspects schematically and in real life, and we got to assemble the things rather than just seeing it in a book where someone did it and took a picture of it.
I learnt that even though I work at a very fast pace, it is easy to make mistakes when you are working with small parts and you have to be patient enough with yourself to know that mistakes happen. You can always fix it rather than blame yourself, because you are only hurting yourself by lowering your self-esteem.
What have you learnt about satellites?
I know satellites can be any size, they don’t have to be big in order to function and send back valuable data. I also learnt that satellites can be used for hundreds of things that are extremely useful. Not only did I learn to put a satellite together, I also learnt to interpret the data from it into valuable information, which I think is an extremely valuable skill to have.
Why do you think young women are less inclined to follow a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) related degree and career?
There are not many women in these fields and that discourages other young women from following careers in STEM. This mindset needs to change because STEM needs more women to join it for it to be well maintained. I would like the rest of Africa to know that anyone van follow a career in STEM regardless of their gender. It just takes brains, effort and a little luck.
Have you come out of Space Trek excited for the future?
Space Trek has opened my mind to a lot of fields, possibilities and careers, especially in astronomy as satellites can be used for so many things. There are engineers, technicians, designers and thousands of people involved in sending up satellites and it is really an exciting career opportunity.
I feel empowered that I have built a satellite from scratch and and sent up that satellite. It is something that only people in big companies and big important positions do, and when you as a 16 year old do it yourself it is really hard to believe, but I did it and I feel so amazing because that makes me believe that I have the power to do anything I set my mind to.
Where to from here?
I was initially considering a career in Mathematics, but after this past experience I’m thinking to go for Astronomy.