Mandla Maseko: Would-be African astronaut dies in road crash

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Mandla Maseko with his spacesuits in Mabopane, near Pretoria, South Africa. Photo: 9 January 2014Image copyright
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Mandla Maseko described himself as a typical township boy

A South African who won the chance to be the first black African in space has died in a motorbike accident before turning his dream into reality.

Mandla Maseko, 30, was killed on Saturday, a family statement says.

In 2013, the South African Air Force member beat one million entrants to win one of 23 places at a space academy in the US.

Nicknamed Afronaut and Spaceboy, Maseko described himself as a typical township boy from Pretoria.

Many of those paying tribute to Maseko on social media remembered his nicknames fondly.

 

 

He had spent a week at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida doing tests in preparation for an hour-long sub-orbital flight, originally scheduled for 2015.

Challenges included skydiving to earth from 10,000 feet and a test charmingly known as the “vomit comet”.

But the chance never came to go into space. The company organising the flight, XCOR Aerospace, went bankrupt in 2017, news site Space.com reported.

Maseko returned to the armed forces and worked as a private pilot. In his free time he was a keen DJ and biker.

“He was a larger-than-life figure. We are all still reeling at the moment,” his friend Sthembile Shabangu told News24.

Maseko had said he wanted to do something that would motivate and inspire young people in Africa and prove that they could achieve anything whatever their background.

He told the BBC he planned to call them from space. “I hope I have one line that will be used in years to come – like Neil Armstrong did,” he said.

The US astronaut, who died in 2012 aged 82, was the first man ever to walk on the Moon in 1969.

As he stepped on to the lunar surface, he famously said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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Media captionRemembering the moon landing