South African candidate for space fight dies in motorbike crash

(GIN) | 7/11/2019, 4:41 p.m.
Family and friends are mourning the untimely death of Mandla Maseko, South Africa’s candidate to be the first Black African ...
Mandla Maseko

(GIN)—Family and friends are mourning the untimely death of Mandla Maseko, South Africa’s candidate to be the first Black African in space.

Maseko was killed when a car struck his bike in Pretoria over the weekend. He was 30.

In 2013, the part-time disc jockey and candidate officer for the South African air force beat a million entrants from 73 countries to become one of 23 people chosen to win a trip to space and a spot at the U.S.-based Axe Apollo Space Academy.

He spent a week training at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2015.

“I want to be able to float and see outside the window and see this big, round, blue and white ball that is called Earth,’’ Maseko told The Associated Press in 2014.

Born to a school cleaner and auto tool maker in Soshanguve township near Pretoria, his win was a source of national pride and had neighbors high-fiving him for putting South Africa’s townships on the “galactic map.”

He spent a week at the Kennedy Space Academy in Florida where he skydived and undertook air combat and G-force training. While there he met and posed for pictures with U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was the second man ever to set foot on the moon after Neil Armstrong as part of the 1969 Apollo 11 space mission.

He had been originally scheduled to fly in 2015 but no firm plans for his trip had been made public at the time of his death.

Dubbed “Afronaut,” Maseko never got to experience his dream. The company organizing the flight, XCOR Aerospace, went bankrupt in 2017.

He went on to become an avid public speaker and community worker who inspired many African children to pursue careers in science, the family statement said.