Since the 90s, we have had some famous ‘firsts’. The likes of Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was the first woman to drive a car in Nigeria, Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s first Nobel Laureate, and Chioma Ajunwa, the first Nigerian woman to win an Olympic gold medal. But how many people know the first Nigerian to experience space?
2006 World Space Week
In 2006, when space travel was still not a very engaging topic in Nigeria, the World Space Week launched a program called ‘the World Space Week Youth Inspiration Project’. This program was to send students into simulated zero-gravity to experience flying in space. The students flew on the Zero G plane which simulates the weightlessness of space.
The project was based on using the excitement of space to inspire students globally to excel in school. The selected students were chosen based on academic excellence and financial level.
This first project saw a Nigerian secondary school student, Stella Felix, selected to experience Zero G. Stella was the best student in physics and chemistry at Moremi High School, Ile Ife, Osun state.
She was from a humble background, the 5th child in a family of six children. Stella’s parents were not very educated and hence, lived a meager life. This however encouraged Stella to face her studies. Eventually, the 17 year old was the standout student out of over 400 students that applied for the program.
In September 2006, Stella flew into Florida, U.S.A to take her Zero G experience flight. She met with the other participants and took the long awaited zero gravity flight. In narrating her experience, Stella said
“When the flight took off we were going flat, just normally. When we got to 24,000 altitudes, we were asked to separate into our different groups and lie down flat.
“When the flight rose from 24,000, we were feeling 1.8 gravity, that is about twice our weight. Soon after, we went down to 24,000 again and that was when everybody just started to float; it was a very fun ride.
“I felt that even if I wanted to be an astronaut, at least I now have a little experience of it. I really loved the experience and would gladly go over it again if asked to. It was an unbelievable opportunity because I never thought about it in my wildest dream.
“I feel very happy and I also feel like a role model. I know that this will create awareness to other students and make them have more interest in space science and technology education.”
After the Experience
Stella Felix came back home to Nigeria amid much celebration. She was regarded as a national pioneer. She was also given a full tertiary education scholarship, where she studied pharmacy at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.
Stella had initially wanted to study Engineering Physics, but according to her,
“At that time, space wasn’t given so much attention in the country and the environment wasn’t very conducive.
Stella Felix got married in 2016 and she still hopes that an active space program can be kicked off in Nigeria.
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