First-year student Zemichael Gebeyehu has proven that he not only shoots for the stars, but he also intends to keep the pathway to them clear. Gebeyehu’s innate passion for space and sustainability sprouted as a young child, at the impressionable age of 10. It all started when a gift revolving around UFOs got Gebeyehu hooked on the intricacies of aerospace engineering.
“I remember my father giving me a book about space for Christmas,” Gebeyehu said. “I was curious how (whomever or whatever might build UFOs) can build a levitating spacecraft. I started with that question and moved to the real science.”
Gebeyehu’s first interaction with the space sector also began at the same age, when he joined the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS), an organization that lobbies Ethiopia's government to engage in the space industry.
National attention came when he won ESSS’s Youth Leadership Award, which led to exposure and cooperation with the United Nations World Organization for Sustainability Leadership.
From this astounding achievement stemmed a passion for designing materials in aircrafts, and the desire to make space sustainable.
“I was able to be part of the UN Junior Ambassador Program, mostly focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Gebeyehu said. “I was representing Ethiopia, and actually Africa because we didn't have any African states in that research program.”
In his work as a UN Junior Ambassador, Gebeyehu focused his attention on SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, relating it to space debris.
“We have to care about the future of our space environment. When I looked into the space industry, one of the bigger problems is sustainability (avoiding the creation of space junk). I wanted to work on this (and help) the UN take action,” Geneyehu said. “We have thousands of objects in space, and if we continue to launch satellites in unsustainable ways (it will be hard) to foster settlement on other planets.”
While serving as a UN Junior Ambassador, Gebeyehu was able to travel to institutions such as Claremont McKenna College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to engage with and present his research to academic professionals. He also participated in service-learning projects and spread awareness of the SDGs.
One of the most memorable moments in this line of work, according to Gebeyehu, was his first trip to the UN headquarters, in New York. Here, he was given the opportunity to present research to officials supporting the SDGs and meet the Ethiopian Ambassador to the United Nations.
Gebeyehu did not stop there; his participation with the UN continued with his work on the Space Generation Advisory Council — part of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Here, he works as a delegate lead, facilitating transcontinental workshops and the selection of new delegates.
Gebeyehu has confidence that the UN will support countries seeking to expand their space industries in the future.
“I am an aspiring engineer and I want to work with the United Nations,” Gebeyehu said excitedly. “I want to make those policies that help developing countries, just like mine and others, to support their space programs and actually enable them to go to space.”
Gebeyehu believes that there must be a common human space exploration where all countries may be involved, and he hopes to be a catalyst for this.