The African Space Program That Never Was

May 08, 13 The African Space Program That Never Was

In the 1960s, the space race was on. The United States and Russia were locked in a battle for technological supremacy that would ultimately decide, or so it was thought, who would claim outer space for themselves.

But the two superpowers were not the only ones with their eyes on the heavens. In 1964 an op-ed piece in a Zambian newspaper declared, “We Are Going to Mars!” The claim, made by schoolteacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso, was not met with much support.

When a $7 million dollar grant request was denied and the female member of the crew fell pregnant, the quest to send Africans to Mars came to an end.

The story of their dreams and the work they did has been brought to life. In a new photo book by Spanish photographer Cristina De Middel, the journey of “The Afronauts” is recreated using modern interpretations. The work mixes fact with fiction to bring to life the story of a “spacegirl,” two cats, and a missionary who were set to make history.

What makes De Middel’s work particularly interesting is that she has never even been to Africa, much less to space. The images that she used to create her vision were derived from what she learned about the events.

While the Afronaut adventure was short lived, and in some eyes a foolish endeavor, De Middel contends that her work brings a positive view to the story, making it a tale of dreams.

“Not only because the story is positive, in terms of African people having dreams, but also evidencing what we expect from Africa in terms of aesthetics and behavior.”

“He had a fascination for the universe that we all share,” says De Middel. “Asking if we’re alone, looking at the stars, making metaphysical questions. That is a universal feeling and it doesn’t belong to the people who can actually have the technology to go to the moon; it’s everywhere.”

Image Credit: Christina De Middel

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John P. Millis, Ph.D., is professor of physics and astronomy at Anderson University, in Anderson Indiana. He teaches a wide variety of courses while maintaining an active research program in high energy astrophysics.

His research focus is on pulsars, pulsar wind nebulae, and supernova remnants. Using the VERITAS gamma-ray observatory in southern Arizona, he studies the very high energy radiation from these dynamic sources to extract information about their formation and emission mechanisms. Dr. John received his B.S. in physics at Purdue University and remained there for the completion of his Ph.D., where he focused on High Energy Astrophysics. When not teaching or writing about physics and space, Dr. John enjoys spending time with his family, tickling the keys on his piano and playing a wide variety of sports.

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