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Motorcycle Crash Kills Man Who Nearly Made Space History

Mandla Maseko had once been on track to be first black African in space
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 8, 2019 8:25 AM CDT
A 2014 photo of Mandla Maseko, wearing a bright orange Apollo Space Academy jumpsuit.   (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
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(Newser) – A few years ago, Mandla Maseko was on track to become the first black African in space. Today, his family is mourning the death of the 30-year-old nicknamed "Afronaut" and "Spaceboy" after a motorcycle crash in Pretoria, South Africa, reports the Guardian. Maseko made international headlines in 2014 when he beat 1 million other candidates to earn one of 23 spots in the Axe Apollo Space Academy. The following year, he spent a week at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, training for a suborbital flight. However, the company organizing the flight, XCOR Aerospace, went bankrupt before it could take place, per the BBC.

Maseko then became a private pilot and a motivational speaker, and he served as a corporal with the South African Defense Force, reports CNN. "He was a larger-than-life figure," a friend tells News24. "We are all still reeling at the moment." When his flight was still in the works, Maseko said he wanted it inspire young black Africans. "I hope I have one line that will be used in years to come—like Neil Armstrong did," he once told the BBC. And though the historic flight never came to be, the Gauteng Department of Education in South Africa named a school science building after Maseko in 2016. (Read more astronauts stories.)

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