December 23 2013 at 07:31am By LALI VAN ZUYDAM
Pretoria - Mandla Maseko is from a dusty township street in Mabopane. But he will be the first black South African to go into space.
“That’s me, I will be the first black youth to go to space,” he said excitedly from the lounge of his parents’ home in Mabopane on Sunday.
The 25-year-old part-time DJ, the son of a toolmaker and a cleaning supervisor, said he had known he would “kill it” from the moment he was accepted to take part in the Axe Apollo Space Academy competition.
He is the only South African “future astronaut” among a group of 23 young people from across the world who are to get to spend an hour in space on the Lynx Mark II Shuttle in 2015.
“ ‘Excitement’ does not begin to describe how I feel right now,” Maseko told the Pretoria News.
In August, Maseko was lying on the couch when he heard an advertisement for the competition on radio and decided to enter, along with thousands of other South Africans.
“I needed to send in a picture of myself jumping off something. I jumped off the wall in the backyard here. I had to do it three times before I was happy with the picture,” he said, showing the 2m wall.
Only 30 entrants were selected for the first set of challenges in the Free State – and only three would go on to participate further in the US.
From December 1 to 8, Maseko and fellow South Africans Dean Roddan and Haroon Osman (from Joburg) faced gruelling challenges at the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida.
The challenges included skydiving, battling G-forces in a “vomit comet”, building and launching a rocket and conquering obstacle courses.
“Unfortunately we could not get our rocket to launch, but we made up points because we were judged on bravery, enthusiasm and teamwork,” Maseko said.
“We face things head-on. I knew I had to learn, master and excel at the challenges, so I did.”
Maseko will be the only other South African, other than billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, to have travelled into space.
He said he had known since he was a boy that he was destined for greatness.
“We were not brought up to believe we can be bigger than big, but I always knew I would be,” he said.
Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, was one of the competition’s judges. Maseko was granted the opportunity to meet Aldrin when he was announced a winner. His name was the second to be read out during the graduation ceremony.
“At that moment I felt the sense of him (Mandela) handing me the torch and telling me to continue on,” he said.
“When I was pregnant with him in 1988, I knew I would give birth to a star,” his mother, Ouma Maseko, said.
His family wore shirts and caps bearing Maseko’s name and sang songs yesterday, as they told the Pretoria News how happy they were about his success.
Neighbours walking by also stopped to congratulate Maseko and to have their picture taken with him.
The date for take-off has yet to be set, but Maseko has not been more excited.
“People will be telling their children and grandchildren that I was the first black South African youth in space.”
During the long wait before his trip, Maseko hopes to complete his civil engineering qualification.
He had only a few subjects to go when he had to put his studies on hold because of a lack of funding.
He wants to pay for the education of a child from his area one day when he has the money.