Mandla Maseko’s space voyage: Breaking new ground
Mandla’s out-of-the-ordinary story is the result of an AXE deodorant competition (in conjunction with the second person to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin), which will see 23 winners from 60 countries launched into space early next year.
After hearing of the competition on a radio station in August 2013, he decided to enter. About half an hour after entering, he received a call from the station asking why he would like to go to space.
He replied: 'I want to defy the laws of gravity and I would like to go down as the first black South African and African to go to space.'
He was then shortlisted, and not long after that he found himself competing in the local stage camp in Parys, Free State, along with other hopefuls. And on 1 December 2013, he travelled to the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida, where he secured his spot, along with the 22 others, to launch into space.
It’s a moment he will remember for the rest for his life.
'I had just learned of Nelson Mandela’s passing and I had to write the final aptitude test. I think that’s when things got real for me,' he says. 'A few hours later, I was announced as one of the 23 to make it to space, a huge moment of triumph for me and my country.'
Some of the challenges at Parys and the Kennedy Space Center included jumping from a moving plane and the construction of rockets. The overall winners were judged on bravery, enthusiasm and teamwork.
Born in Soshanguve, Pretoria, and later moving to Mabopane (also in Tshwane municipality), Mandla’s story is similar to many South African youths: he is the eldest of four siblings, and had to drop his engineering studies due to a lack of tuition fees. In order to help support his family, he had to search for a job.
What followed after dropping out of his studies was a string of unsuccessful job interviews, to which his mother would encouragingly say: 'Don’t worry, something huge is coming.' He admits to rolling his eyes and replying, 'Of course you’re going to say that; you are my mother.'
The lesson here, Mandla says, is, 'Mothers are always right.'
‘That’s my son’
He says his mother, siblings and aunts are all excited for him. But perhaps the most unlikely person spreading the word of his pending space trip is his father, a man of few words.
'I’m seeing a side of my father I’ve never seen before. If we go somewhere and people recognise me from an interview, he tells them, "Don’t you know about the guy going to space? That’s him, ngumfana wami ... that’s my son." He’s very proud of me,' Mandla says.
Mandla currently spends much of his time travelling around the country telling schoolchildren about the importance of having dreams and following them. He is also building his brand carefully.
'When you think of "first person of colour" to do anything, it’s a huge honour that requires a lot of responsibility. I’m working on sustaining my brand; if I could be a quarter of what Mandela was, I’d be very happy,' he says.
According to Mandla, launching into space from Earth takes about six minutes, and they will then spend about an hour in space observing and learning, before returning. There will be four flights a day taking the competition winners into space, and he will be on the first flight, with just him and the pilot on board.
He is most looking forward to seeing the Earth as a ball, 'as seen in the movies', as well as experiencing weightlessness.
The future is clear now clear for Mandla: apart from his groundbreaking trip into space, he is also planning on completing his engineering studies, and thereafter studying more. Not willing to divulge anymore about his future plans, he simply says, 'The sky is not the limit.'