Kyrgyz Women Working on Country’s First Satellite

18 November, 2018

Young women in Kyrgyzstan are reaching for the stars. They are working to build and launch the country's first satellite before 2020.

A small group of female scientists has been working with computers and other equipment since March to build a CubeSat. The American space agency NASA has described CubeSat as the smallest and cheapest satellite used for space exploration.

"I'm very proud that it's going to be the first satellite of the country," said 23-year-old student Kyzzhibek Batyrkanova.

"I'm doing this because I want to empower other girls," she said. Batyrkanova added that a person's gender — whether you are male or female — "doesn't have to determine what you do in this life."

She spoke to the Reuters news agency on Skype from Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital.

Few Kyrgyz choosing careers in technology

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country where nearly two thirds of the people live in rural areas. The United Nations notes that the local economy depends heavily on farming. So it is rare for any Kyrgyz to choose technology as a career path.

The UN Development Program studied records about the country's college graduates in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, construction and manufacturing. It found that women make up less than 10 percent of those graduates.

Nineteen-year-old Alina Anisimova is a computer programmer who leads the CubeSat project. She told Reuters "some girls don't have the courage" to take on such studies because it is not common in their country. And, she said, "the majority of parents discourage their daughters" from studying these subjects.

Anisimova said she wishes that in the future "people will not consider it so surprising" to see young women involved in engineering and metal working.

She is one of the young women, ages 17 to 24, who are working on the project. It was started by Kloop Media, a local media group, after a chance meeting with Alexander MacDonald, a NASA official. MacDonald suggested the idea of building the satellite.

He told Reuters that building a satellite "can serve as a powerful social and political signal," or sign. MacDonald said it could send important messages about "who is able to participate and build the future."

Kloop created a crowdfunding page to raise money for the project. It says the manufacture and launch of Kyrgyzstan's first CubeSat will cost up to $150,000. The final part of device will be made with a Lithuanian company.

In the grasp of the Japanese robotic arm, the CubeSat deployer (upper right) releases a pair of NanoRacks CubeSat miniature satellites (bottom center) in this NASA image obtained August 27, 2014.
In the grasp of the Japanese robotic arm, the CubeSat deployer (upper right) releases a pair of NanoRacks CubeSat miniature satellites (bottom center) in this NASA image obtained August 27, 2014.

Women in scientific research

The number of women in science, technology, engineering and math areas has increased in recent years. In the United States, there has been a push to get more girls interested in such subjects at an early age. Still, the UN's cultural agency UNESCO notes that only about 30 percent of the world's researchers are women.

Aidana Aidarbekova is a 19-year-old student involved in the project. She said girls and women in her country are expected to marry instead of having careers.

"There are a lot of people who don't believe that girls are capable of doing anything else but cleaning and cooking and giving birth to children," Aidarbekova said.

Nearly one in 10 girls in Kyrgyzstan is married before age 18, notes the international aid group Girls Not Brides. Aidarbekova said she hopes the space project will inspire girls in Kyrgyzstan and other countries.

"We are doing this program because we want to prove that girls can actually do it," she said. " ... Maybe our project will give hope to girls all around the world."

I'm Anne Ball.

Anne Ball adapted this story for Learning English from Reuters. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

cheap – adj. not costing a lot of money

proud – adj. causing a feeling of pride

determine – v. to officially decide (something) especially because of evidence or facts : to establish (something) exactly or with authority

graduate – n. a person who has completed a course of study in college or university

construction - n. to build or make things like buildings, roads, equipment, etc.

courage – n. to be brave

crowdfunding – n. the practice of getting money (as for a new business) by asking for contributions from a large number of people especially online

inspire – v. to make (someone) want to do something : to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create