Meet Susan Murabana: The Architect of the First Planetarium in Kenya

Susan Murabana’s passion for the planets is limitless like the night sky in Nairobi, Kenya. The native born president of the recently established African Planetarium Association overcame obstacles in order to make history in building the first permanent planetarium in East Africa. “The telescope was invented more than 400 years ago,” Murabana said in an interview with APS Physics, “but most people have never looked through one.”

Invented more than 400 years ago, the telescope has help man connect with the stars. For Susan Murabana, seeing the skies through a telescope has provide herself, her partner, and her community with the power of changing their perspective of life via the beauty of nature. The country itself had few astronomers, no planetarium, and access to a telescope was all but impossible.

“When my partner and I started the Travelling Telescope, there was a lot of interest from children but also from adults,” she shared in that same chat. “We thought it would be nice to have a permanent planetarium that anyone could visit.” Made from bamboo as a way to cut cost (and for others to replicate) — Susan Murabana and her partner used local materials to reduce their carbon footprint and showcased how ingenuity for the environment can be cool too.

By engaging school-aged children and their parents, Travelling Telescope has created new constellations within the community, even being rewarded the 2020 Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement for their work. “These are the kinds of things we want to do as an association — promote Africa by creating something unique that we can share with the rest of the world,” Murabana said.

The African Planetarium Association also supports other planetariums across the continent, developing and sharing resources, while fostering outreach among people working on similar science education efforts. With Susan Murabana’s goal of expanding the number of planetariums in Africa stems from her love for science, and will inspire future generations to work in astronomy and space exploration.

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