- Feb 28, 2009
Contest winner Mandla Maseko set to become first black African in space
DJ from Mabopane township near Pretoria will be blasted 62 miles into orbit in 2015 after winning space academy competition
Born and raised in a township, Mandla Maseko has spent his life at the mercy of the heavens. "Once it rains, the lights go out," the 25-year-old said. "I do know the life of a candle."
But from this humblest of launchpads, Maseko is poised to defy the laws of physical and political gravity by becoming the first black African in space.
The DJ is among 23 young people who saw off 1 million other entrants from around the world to emerge victorious in the Lynx Apollo Space Academy competition. Their prize is to be blasted 62 miles up on a sub-orbital flight aboard a Lynx mark II shuttle in 2015.
"It's crazy," said Maseko, the son of a toolmaker and cleaning supervisor. "It hasn't really sunk in yet. I'm envious of myself.
"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 spacecamp and I thought, I can actually be an astronaut."
He will be the second South African in space following Mark Shuttleworth, a white entrepreneur and philanthropist who bought a seat on a Russian Soyuz capsule for £12m and spent eight days on board the international space station in 2002.
Maseko's father, who grew up in such poverty that he got his first pair of shoes when he was 16, was determined that his children would never go hungry. Maseko and his four younger siblings were brought up in a simple brick house with access to electricity and running water. "I don't remember going to bed without having eaten," he said. "My dad provided for us. He is my hero, and then Nelson Mandela comes after."