South African DJ Mandla Maseko describes himself as a “typical township boy.” The former civil engineering student, who dropped out of school because he could no longer afford the fees, still lives at home with his parents and four siblings, but recently won a contest that will take him on a trip of a lifetime.
The 25-year-old beat out a million entrants to win a seat on an hour-long sub-orbital trip that will make Maseko the first Black African person to travel into space.
His improbable journey from a middle-class township to the thermosphere began with a leap from a wall.
The initial entry requirement for the competitors was to submit a photograph of themselves jumping from any height.
His first choice was the roof of his parents’ three-bedroom house but his mother Ouma said “no”, fearing it was too high and that he would break his legs.
He settled for the house’s two-metre (more than six feet) perimeter wall and a friend captured the feat using a mobile phone.
The picture has helped propel Maseko, who works part-time as a DJ at parties, to new heights.
He finally secured his seat on the rocket after grueling physical and aptitude tests in the contest organised by AXE Apollo Space Academy and sponsored by Unilever and space tourism firm Space Expedition Corporation (SXC).
Maseko said he entered the challenge because he wanted to do something extraordinary and inspire his compatriots.
“I wanted to do something that will motivate and inspire the youth of South Africa and Africa as a whole, and hopefully to some extent, the youth worldwide, and show that it doesn’t matter what background you come from, you can have whatever you want as long as you put hard work and determination into it,” he wrote in an essay for the BBC.
Maseko will blast off into space in 2015 along with 23 other contest winners. After his journey he plans on resuming his engineering studies and qualifying as a mission specialist so he can travel to the moon to plant the South African flag.
We wish him luck!