Mandla Maseko’s space trip set to be a blast

2013-12-29 14:00

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Mandla Maseko is not fazed by the idea of being known as the first black African in space.

It’s been three weeks since Maseko (25) learnt that he had won the global Axe Apollo competition, which will see him blast off into space for an hour in 2015.

He is one of 23 civilians to win a seat on a space mission, but his victory, announced to him on December 5, was bittersweet.

Three hours before he won his seat, his greatest hero, Nelson Mandela, died.

Dressed in a grey spacesuit, Maseko says when his name was called he “wasn’t even paying much attention”.

The hardest part was having to keep his space mission a secret for more than two weeks until the “big reveal” on December 22.

“I was sworn to secrecy to respect the mourning period. But I couldn’t keep it from my best friend,” says Maseko.

The part-time DJ, who is studying engineering at Tshwane North College in Pretoria, has paid little attention to the social-media debate that’s been raging about him.

South Africans are arguing whether he should be called the first black African in space, or just the first African. South African-born tycoon Mark Shuttleworth went to space in 2002.

“Race doesn’t matter. We’re all part of the human race first.

“It doesn’t matter to me how people describe me, whether I’m the first black African or the first black South African. What matters most is that my journey inspires all young people to reach for their dreams,” he says.

Maseko, who grew up in Mabopane township west of Pretoria, loves his “kasi”. Unless it’s a studio interview, he has conducted all his interviews in his neighbourhood.

He says he is approached daily by people who tell him what a big responsibility he’s taken on. But mostly, he chuckles, he’s spending his time teaching people the difference between going into space and going to the moon.

“I have had to learn so much about astronomy and space to teach others. It’s been a dream, a lifetime dream come true, and I don’t want to stop here. When I come back, I want to become an astronaut and I will work hard to get there,” says Maseko.

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