South African pilot Mandla Maseko trained with NASA and was to become the first black African in space. Maseko got the opportunity to visit space along with 23 other people in a 2013 AXE body spray competition. He was also an officer with South Africa’s airforce.
However, in an unfortunate event on Saturday, 6th July 2019, he was killed in a motorcycle accident. This was according to a South African media report.
The AXE Apollo Space Academy competition meant that Maseko had to endure an hour-long flight on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft. The flight was expected to fly out of NASA’s Space Centre in Florida. It was going to rise 62 miles into the sub-orbit.
However, due to financial issues, the flight was delayed from its original 2015 scheduled date.
According to Maseko’s friend, Sthembile Shabangu, he had high hopes of reaching space one day. He told reporters that “there were still rocket tests happening before they could go up.”
Maseko had gotten trained to skydive and also underwent briefing at the NASA Kennedy Space Centre. He also went as far as taking G-force training.
During an interview with The Guardian in 2013 after he won the competition, he said, “I’m not trying to make this a race thing, but us blacks grew up dreaming to a certain stage.”
“You dreamed of being a policeman or a lawyer but you knew you won’t get as far as pilot or astronaut. Then I went to space camp and I thought, I can actually be an astronaut,” he explained.
The South African media had also nicknamed him Afronaut after the news of his selection became confirmed.
In another interview in 2015, Maseko said, “The world needs space and Africa needs space more than anybody.”
The first African to reach space was a millionaire by the name Mark Shuttleworth. The white South African made this feat back in 2002.
However, Maseko would have made history as the first black African to achieve the high flying feat. It is rather unfortunate that this dream has been cut short.
NASA has only ever sent 17 other black people to space. But, they were African-American men and women.