'Out of this world' experience for Cape Flats rocket enthusiast who jetted off to Jerusalem

2015-10-20 09:16
(Picture: Supplied)

(Picture: Supplied)

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Cape Town - When Leon Africa’s Grade 2 teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he didn't hesitate before answering: "A scientist".

Almost 20 years later, he is living his dream and was among a select few invited to the 66th International Astronautical Congress in Jerusalem.

"Not bad for a boy from Elsies River," he joked.


The University of the Western Cape physics graduate was there to present a prototype of a rocket system which has no soot emissions.

"It reduces the amount of pollution released during rocket launches," he explained.

When he submitted his idea to the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), he wasn't expecting it to be accepted, Africa admitted.

"But here I am," he said proudly, speaking to News24 from Jerusalem.

Representatives from space programmes in various countries attend the congress, organised by the IAF, and propose ideas for the advancement of astronautics.

It ran from October 12 to 16.

Some of the most promising presentations are then considered for potential funding, Africa explained.

"This whole experience of being surrounded by other scientists has been out of this world. It really is a dream come true."


Raised in a single-parent household after his father died when he was a boy, his mother put him through school and university while working at a pharmaceutical factory where she "packed Grandpas", Africa said, a reference to the popular headache pill.

"My mother is my biggest fan," he said with a laugh. "My family has been such a strong support system for me. They couldn't be prouder."

They were also the ones who dug deep into their pockets to finance the trip to Jerusalem, he pointed out.

Africa, who develops mobile apps and websites for a living, is using his story to encourage young people living in the Cape Flats community.

"Young people need to know that science isn't just something you learn at school. It is a subject that can lead you on a variety of career paths. More importantly, you can be your own boss by starting your own business," he said.

"Where you're from doesn't determine how far you can go in life. Look at me. I am a perfect example of this.

"There are options out there. You don't have to sit at home with nothing to do after matric. Sometimes you just need to open your eyes to the opportunities available."

Read more on:    cape town  |  science  |  good news

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