From township to spaceship: South African wins trip to space

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Mandla Maseko, dubbed the ‘afronaut’, is set to be the first black African to travel into space. The 25-year-old part-time DJ from the Mabopare township near Pretoria is one of 23 people chosen from 1 million contenders who will travel on the Lynx Mark II spaceship next year.

Maseko initially saw the advert for a competition on television and decided to send a photo of himself in mid air, jumping from a wall. After making it past the first round, Maseko progressed to the next stage, which included rigorous physical challenges that, he declares, his life as a township boy helped him to overcome. When asked why he wanted to go to space he answered, “I want to defy the laws of gravity and go down in history as the first black South African in space.”

Maseko will be the first member of his family, which consist of his mother, a school cleaner; his father, an auto tool maker and four siblings, to travel outside South Africa, and the news ‘hasn’t quite sunk in yet’ for Maseko, who was surprised when his name was called out among the list of winners.

His mother, who has always been supportive of her son’s endeavours, claims that she knew her boy was destined for great things from the get go. She says, “when I was pregnant I knew I was going to give birth to a star”. Maseko remembers fondly the times when his mother would tell him that big things were on the way for him, even after he had been unsuccessful at a job interview.

Maseko hopes that the trip, which is organised by AXE Apollo Space Academy and is sponsored by Unilever and the Space Expedition Corporation, will afford him new opportunities and allow him to complete the studies he was forced to stop when he could no longer afford the fees. He would like to study aeronautical engineering and is looking to qualify as a space mission specialist.

Derek Hanekom, South Africa’s science and tech minister says that Maseko is ‘a role model to the future generation of space professionals and enthusiasts’. Maseko is excited about his trip and prays that it will ‘inspire and motivate the youth of South Africa.’