Education | Kenya

Kenya’s travelling telescope

How Susan Murabana inspires Kenya’s children with astrophysics and the wonders of the starry sky
In front of a dark night sky with many stars, numerous young people are standing in a circle around a telescope that is pointed at the sky. Next to the telescope, a boy has climbed up a small ladder to look through the telescope

Young people in Kenya admire the starry sky through the “SkyWatcher Flextube”, a mobile telescope


In the remote and arid landscapes of northern Kenya, fifty stargazers are staring up at the midnight sky—an eclectic mix of children, adults, locals, foreigners, professional astronomers and first-time star bathers. They had gathered here to witness the Perseid meteor shower – a celestial event every July and August.

It was not your typical African safari; it was a shooting-star safari where instead of wildlife, they observed the solar system, and instead of safari guides, they had ‘star guides’. They are not disappointed: every few minutes, arrows of light shoot across the sky like silent fireworks, prompting gasps and arm-waving as people try to pinpoint individual shooting stars.

This Shooting Star Safari is organised by a Kenyan astronomer, Susan Murabana, who started these excursions to fund ‘The Travelling Telescope’, a social enterprise she set up with her husband, Daniel Chu Owen, that aims to educate remote communities in Kenya, on astronomy and inspire a love of science among children, particularly girls.

“When I started this work, I didn’t see people who looked like me. No Africans, and especially no African women”

Every two months, Murabana and her husband, Daniel Chu Owen, a photographer, load their equiment, the SkyWatcher Flextube – a 50kg, 170cm-long telescope and set off to rural communities, where they give up to 300 children a chance to view the planets and learn about constellations and the basics of astrophysics.

“The challenge is that most children, especially in Kenya, have not had a chance to look through a telescope or visit a planetarium, and we are trying to change that,” says Murabana, who also runs kids’ space camps in Nairobi.

She estimates that she has shown the wonders of the night sky to 400,000 people since the launch of the Travelling Telescope. They target schools in remote areas because of the quality of the night sky and their mission to bring the cosmos closer to Africans. 

“When I started this work, I didn’t see people who looked like me. No Africans, and especially no African women. I was a lone ranger, and wanted to change that,” says Murabana.

A middle-aged woman looks directly and friendly into the camera. She is portrayed in an interior room, with a shelf and hallway in the background. She is wearing a colorful scarf with African prints tied around her head, a sleeveless dark blue T-shirt and many colorful bracelets

Susan Murabana, co-founder of the „Travelling Telescope“


Murabana’s passion for astronomy began in her early 20s when her uncle invited her to join a similar charity outreach session in her hometown in rural Western Kenya. It was facilitated by Cosmos Education, a charity dedicated to improving science education in developing countries.

“Looking through the telescope that day sparked my passion for the cosmos. I now want to give children, especially African girls, the opportunity I missed,” she says.

When she met Chu Owen in 2013, during a Star Safari she was running, they decided to set up their own outreach programme.

Astronomy for development is an ambitious goal, she admits. It has been challenging to secure funding for her projects, especially in a country that has more pressing developmental needs such as access to healthcare, water and sanitation. About 90% of the Travelling Telescope costs are self-funded.

“‘The Travelling Telescope’ aims to inspire a love of science among children, particularly girls”

But its impact has gone beyond educating communities. In 2021, Murabana was selected as a Space4Women mentor, a UN programme that pairs women in the space sector with young girls aspiring to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Murabana looked to Dr. Mae Jemison, a former NASA astronaut and the first black woman in space, as a role model when she was studying astronomy. Now she hopes her own work will spark a chain reaction that leads to the first African woman in space.