'Afronaut' Mandla Maseko, Who Would Have Been The First Black African In Space, Dead At 30 Years Old
Mandla Maseko was a South African Air Force pilot who won a contest to go to space in 2015, but the flight was delayed.
July 08, 2019 at 6:31 pm
After becoming a successful South African Air Force pilot, Mandla Maseko was slated to become the first Black African to make it to space.
But his family told South African news outlets that Maseko was killed on Saturday in Pretoria after a car hit his motorcycle.
Passing on of Candidate Officer Mandla Maseko, SA Air Force.#sandf#sandf_19#SAAirForce_19
— SA National Defence Force (@SANDFCorpEvents) July 8, 2019
The 30-year-old was well known across South Africa as "Spaceboy" and "Afronaut" because in 2013 he won a contest to become one of 23 people chosen out of a pool of 1 million to participate in the Axe Apollo Space Academy. After a few training sessions, the 23 people would fly in XCOR Aerospace's Lynx spacecraft out of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The hour-long sub-orbital trip in 2015 would have made Maseko the first Black African to make it to space after white South African millionaire Mark Shuttleworth went in 2002.
Unfortunately, the flight was supposed to leave in 2015, but XCOR ran into financial problems and the start date was pushed back indefinitely.
My dearest friend ❤️
My sister’s closest friend ❤️
My nephew’s godfather ❤️
… and you were supposed to be the first Black African in space…???? #RIPMandla
— SheIsWinning ???????? (@Miss_Molebo) July 7, 2019
"He was a larger than life figure. We are all still reeling at the moment. We are very distraught because most people only found out this morning. It is still very hard, painful and tragic," his close friend Sthembile Shabangu told South Africa's News24.
"There were still rocket tests happening before they could go up. He really thought that if he went up to space he could inspire young African children that they could do anything," Shabangu continued. "He used to always say that the sky was no longer the limit. He put a lot of people first and was an ambitious person with big dreams."
'The good die young': Tributes flow as would-be SA astronaut Mandla Maseko dies #RIPMandlaMaseko
— Eyewitness News (@ewnupdates) July 8, 2019
Maseko went to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in 2013 where he was learned about the program, learned how to skydive and completed G-force training. He even got to meet famed astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
"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," Maseko told The Guardian in 2013.
"Then I went to space camp and I thought, I can actually be an astronaut."
His family said that although he did not make it to space, he was an inspiration to so many who hoped to achieve their dreams in spite of their circumstances.
"Maseko, 30, a Soshanguve native, went on to train as a private pilot and became a corporal in the South African National Defence Force. As a public speaker and community worker, Maseko worked to inspire many African children to pursue careers in science," Maseko's family said in a statement.
"His community work saw him join the Corsa Utility Club Mzansi," his family stated. "[He was] an avid biker with the Tshwane Legend Bikers. Maseko will be solely missed. May Mandla Maseko’s kind and beautiful soul rest in eternal peace."