Sky is not the limit

Could Mandla Maseko be the first black South African to go into space?

The 25-year-old, a finalist in the Axe Apollo Competition, is confident of securing a place on the Lynx spacecraft, operated by Space Expedition Corporation, next year.

Last weekend, the adrenalin junkie battled it out with 30semi-finalists at the South African Space Camp in Parys in the Free State.

The 30 were narrowed down to six, then three, with a vigorous training regime that included fighting gravity in the Vomit Comet, a G-Force Rotor, a tandem skydive, and a stunt plane ride.

Maseko will now travel to the Axe Global Space Camp in Orlando, Florida, to compete for the one South African position with contestants from 75 countries.

His South African competitors are the shark-diving enthusiast Haroon Osman and flight simulation maintenance engineer Dean Roddan.

Over sphatlhos and lemonade at his home in Mabopane, Maseko says: "I've always had this in me that I'm destined for greatness."

He has only one subject left to complete in his N6 engineering certificate - he was forced to abandon his studies two years ago because of his brother's birth - and this competition is an opportunity to prove himself. "I want my little brother to say: 'That's my brother.'"

When Maseko is not racing fast cars, you'll find him in church on a Sunday singing for the Voices for Joy. He is also a part-time DJ.

"I don't drink, I don't smoke, I have no kids," he says.

The aspirant astronaut is also unattached: "I've been single for a year now and it doesn't bother me that much - a relationship is the last thing on my mind right now."

Maseko is confident of winning.

"Of course! I've never heard of a black person passing out from adrenalin.

"There's nothing we can't do. My Axe factor is faith and belief."

Maseko says he e-mailed a picture of himself jumping off a wall to Metro FM, and it was thanks to that that he was named a semi-finalist.

"I wanted to jump from the roof, but my mom said: 'No, you'll break your leg.'

"I was the first winner and I waited three months for this past weekend's challenges. I was also the first one to jump off the plane - the other two were scared."

The idea of making history next year, when South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy, appeals to him.

"The vision of all youths here in Mabopane is to drive a taxi, do drugs or work on houses. It's good to be a solution to your township rather than a problem. I want to break that system and this is a nice way to go down in history. I believe that will motivate me. The sky is not the limit."