Mandla Maseko, a 30-year-old South African man who won the opportunity to become the first black African in space, has died in a motorcycle accident in Pretoria, according to a statement from his family.
Maseko became known as an “Afronaut” and was an inspiration to many South Africans when he won the international competition for placement in the Axe Apollo Space Academy and spent a week in training at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2015.
In an interview with The Guardian, Maseko said, “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m envious of myself. I’m not trying to make this a race thing but us blacks grew up dreaming to a certain stage. You dreamed of being a policeman or a lawyer, but you knew you won’t get as far as pilot or astronaut. Then I went to space camp, and I thought, I can actually be an astronaut.”
Maseko became a private pilot and was also a corporal with the South African National Defence Force. He was honored by the Gauteng Department of Education in South Africa in 2016 and had a science building at a school named after him, according to the statement.
From a poor township outside Pretoria, Maseko said that his role model was Nelson Mandela. “He broke new ground by being the first black president in South Africa… that was inspiration for me,” he said.
Our condolences to the Maseko family.