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To Mars, and beyond

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Mining the asteroids may be the next great frontier for investors, says Adriana Marais, the only South African selected for the Mars One expedition. She spoke to ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Dr Adriana Marais is not your typical extraterrestrial. For that matter, she’s not even your typical Earthling. With a doctorate in theoretical physics, a passion for jazz and a lifelong love of reading, she sparkles with enthusiasm. Most of that energy is devoted to her pet topic: why a human colony on a distant planet is not just a good idea, but an essential one.

Adriana is the only South African selected for the Mars One project to establish a permanent human colony on Mars in the next decade. The catch: they can never come back.

Yet, the organisers claim 200 000 people applied for a spot on the mission. Just over a thousand made it to a second round pool, and 100 finalists were announced in February 2016. In September last year, six teams comprising two men and two women were selected – and one was from South Africa.

Many have questioned whether the project is even possible.

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“That’s the point of dreams: the dreamers have a belief in themselves that propels dreams into reality,” she said in an interview this week. “As Nelson Mandela said, something is always impossible until it is done.

Adriana Marais speaking at the Saphila 2017 SAP user conference in Sun City.

“The American announcement that it would put people on the moon was an impossible dream, but it was achieved in eight years. Team size and budget and determination made it happen. We’re in a similar position. I think it will happen unless we self-destruct as a species before then, we will be a species living off Earth in a few decades.”

Adriana Marais speaking at the Saphila 2017 SAP user conference in Sun City.

Adriana Marais speaking at the Saphila 2017 SAP user conference in Sun City.

The question Adriana is asked most often is not an engineering one about space travel, but a psychological one: how will she cope with the desolation of potentially being one of only 24 human beings on an entire planet, for the rest of her life?

She jokes at first: “I’ll finally have some peace and quiet, and have time to read, which I’ve loved to do since I was a child. Seriously, any price you’d need to pay to be one of first members of a new society on a new planet would be worth it.

“I’m very lucky to have been born in this very narrow window of human existence, of life on earth. These few decades are the most unique in the history of the planet.”

The broad project concept

The broad project concept

Meanwhile, she is likely to be kept busy for some of the ten years that have been scheduled for training the astronauts.

Far from leaving everything behind, Adriana’s selection for the project kickstarted a new career: the enterprise software company SAP, which runs 15 Co-innovation Labs across the world,  approached her to run the South African facility. She was appointed head of innovation at SAP Africa, where her duties include driving strategic co-innovation projects and taking responsibility for the SAP Start-up Focus programme, which provides small and medium enterprises with digital solutions to help accelerate growth.

The current planned missions to Mars

The current planned missions to Mars

At this week’s Saphila 2017 SAP user conference in Sun City, she teamed up with a mining software specialist to present her perspective on a topic as visionary as a colony on Mars: mining the asteroids.

“I believe mining resources from asteroids is a more ethical way of mining than disrupting unique ecosystems on Earth, which is teeming with life. And there are far more metals in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter than have ever been detected on planet Earth, on these bodies floating in space not having life on them, waiting to be harvested.”

She gives the example of the asteroid Anteros, a 2km-diameter lump of rock that is so packed with rare minerals, it has been valued at US$5.57-trillion. A methodology has already been developed for asteroid mining, going by the acronym SHEPERD (Secure Handling by Encapsulation of a Planetesimal Heading to Earth-moon Retrograde-orbit Delivery). Adriana enthuses about the engineering innovations that will make the mission profitable.

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“While bringing the samples back to Earth, you can already start mining, using electroforming, which uses gases to differentiate metals from volatiles, which burn off so that you can collect the metals. As you’re electro-forming, you’re doing spectral analysis of the particles flying off. If at any point you find that the metals accumulating are not of sufficient value, you can abort the mission. It provides real time profit analysis.”

Empie Strydom, vice president of marketing at mining software company MineRP, joined Adriana in the presentation to explain the way minerals embedded in asteroids can be detected and valued. His company already provides that services to conventional mining houses on Earth, saving millions through eliminating human error in detecting mineral deposits.

He was equally enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“The time for putting together a space mission is the same as the time it takes to sink a mine shaft, and the cost is the same. The difference is 30 years life of a mine here, in which time you retrieve the minerals and make a profit over time. But when bring back a big rock in one go, you have potentially, for example, a trillion dollars of platinum right there.”

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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