‘Afronaut’ who won place on space trip killed in motorbike crash

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Tributes have been paid to a South African man who was training to become the first black African to go to space after he died in a motorbike crash.

Mandla Maseko, 30, beat one million other contenders to win a place on the Axe Apollo Space Academy venture six years ago and spent a week in 2015 being put through his paces at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

He was killed in the accident on Saturday before he had the chance to fulfil his dream, his family said.

'Afronaut' who won place on space trip killed in motorbike crash
The South African said he hoped his journey would inspire young people in Africa

According to South African news agency Eyewitness News, Mr Maseko was in the South African Air Force and a public speaker, having grown up in a poor township in the city of Pretoria.

He was known in his homeland as “Spaceboy” and “Afronaut”.

He was one of 23 people chosen to take part in the space expedition after completing a series of mental aptitude tests, combat training in a fighter jet, and zero-gravity training.

Former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin was on the judging panel, and said at the time: “Going into space has been the biggest privilege of my life. More of you will see space in the next few years than at any other time in history.”

More from South Africa

'Afronaut' who won place on space trip killed in motorbike crash
Buzz Aldrin was involved in choosing Mr Maseko and 22 others to take part

Space.com reported that the 23 were due to travel aboard the XCOR Aerospace Lynx commercial spacecraft, which was expected to begin flying customers with tickets costing $95,000 (£75,820) in 2015.

But XCOR Aerospace went bankrupt in 2017 and no firm plans for the trip have been made public since.

The venture had been sponsored by the fragrance company Axe, known as Lynx in the UK.

Mourners have been left devastated that Mr Maseko never made it into space before his death, with one hailing him for having been a “beacon of light” who had done “great things” for Africa.

'Afronaut' who won place on space trip killed in motorbike crash
Mr Maseko said he was inspired by Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon

Vezuchiy Fanashnikov tweeted: “#RIPMandlaMaseko. Didn’t know the guy, but he was going to do great things for this proud land of Africa. One more beacon of light is gone. We salute you.”

Castro Ngobese added: “#RIPMandlaMaseko. The good die young, wherever you are in the nooks and crannies of the universe, you will always be missed, a life well lived, be a good ancestor to your family and nation at large!!”

And Tuhla Thula wrote: “A testimony that our dreams are valid regardless of how far fetched they seem. #RIPAfronaut you’re now in #PlanetHeaven, your final destination.”

Mr Maseko told the BBC in 2014 that he wanted to go to space to motivate and inspire young people in Africa and prove they could go far no matter their background.

He said he hoped his trip would see him come up with “one line that will be used in years to come – like Neil Armstrong did”.