Mandla Maseko was born and raised in a dusty township in South Africa and never dreamed his life would be as big as it has become.
"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.”
The 25-year-old DJ was selected to be one of 23 people to attend the Lynx Apollo Space Academy competition. Maseko was selected out of millions of applicants, and all selected will be blasted 62 miles into orbit aboard a Lynx Mark II shuttle in 2015, the Guardian reports.
"It's crazy," said Maseko, the son of a toolmaker and cleaning supervisor. "It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m envious of myself."
As a boy, Maseko loved the science fiction series Star Trek and films such as Armageddon and Apollo 13. "I thought, that looks fun," he told the Guardian, but never imagined that one day that would be him.
According to the Guardian, Maseko’s father grew up so poor that he didn’t receive his first pair of shoes until he was 16. As a father, he made sure that his five children never went hungry.
"I don’t remember going to bed without having eaten," Maseko told the Guardian. "My dad provided for us. He is my hero, and then Nelson Mandela comes after."
Maseko does not drink, does not smoke, does not have a girlfriend and lives with his parents in Mabopane township near the capital, Pretoria. He enrolled as a part-time civil engineering student but had to drop out due to lack of funds. Then this year he spotted an ad for a chance to go into space. “I was in the right place at the right time and in the right frame of mind.”
He needed a photo of himself to send in with his application, so he got a friend to photograph him in mid-air after jumping off a wall. “I want to defy the laws of gravity,” he noted on the application as his motivation for entering the competition, the Guardian reports.
Maseko is fully aware of what this opportunity means both culturally and historically as a South African raised in a township.
"I’m a township boy, and I’m doing this for the typical township boy who wasn’t born with a silver spoon,” he told the Guardian. "I’ll be the first black South African and the first black African to go into space. When you think of the firsts, the first black presidents—Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela—just to know your name will be written with those people is unbelievable."
Read more at the Guardian.