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Zambia’s astronaut Nkoloso still making headlines

Time Posted: April 24, 2012 3:58 pm

In 1964, a Zambian grade-school science teacher single-handedly, and unilaterally, created a space program for his country. The program involved rolling aspiring astronauts down a hill in a barrel and clipping their rope-swings at the height of their arc to simulate weightlessness. He claimed his country would not only beat both the Americans and Russians to the moon, but do it within the year.

Spanish photographer Cristina De Middel‘s photo project, Afronauts, creates a fictional documentation of these efforts. The result is a fact-bending, visually striking fantasy that includes elephant-hugging astronauts, patterned space junk, weightless cats and an engineer day-dreaming at a rusted control panel.

His story inspires a re-evaluation of the line between possibility and dreams

“My intention is to drive the audience into reflection on what they consume as real,” says De Middel. “In the beginning most people believed everything [in the photos] was real. People asked if I had been in Zambia in the ’60s. They trusted the image but not me, which is quite funny.”

The forgotten Zambian space program was the brainchild of Edward Makuka Nkoloso, a science teacher who dared to dream big. Following independence for the central African nation in 1964, Makuka Nkoloso founded the National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy, Zambia’s first (and completely unofficial) space academy.

As the self-appointed Director-General, Makuka Nkoloso announced in a 1964 op-ed, We’re Going to Mars! With a Spacegirl, Two Cats and a Missionary, that the academy would win the space race by putting a person on the moon by 1965. He even insisted that if the Zambian government and citizenry had not been distracted by independence celebrations, they’d be there already.

The Zambian government never seriously considered Nkoloso’s activities and let the program “die a natural death.” After the United Nations turned down Nkoloso’s funding request for $7 million, the program withered. Not surprising when you consider the training regime as described by Nkoloso:

“I’m getting them acclimatised to space-travel by placing them in my space-capsule every day. It’s a 40-gallon oil drum in which they sit, and I then roll them down a hill.”

Recruits also braved rope-swings. As they neared the arc of their highest swing, Nkoloso cut the rope in an attempt to replicate temporary weightlessness.

We’re Going to Mars! With a Spacegirl, Two Cats and a Missionary

As deluded as he and his wannabe spacemen were, one can’t help but admire the sheer audacity and ambition of Nkoloso. His story inspires a re-evaluation of the line between possibility and dreams, and De Middel is his acolyte in the way she conflates invention and truth.

“Afronauts is the documentation of an impossible dream that only lives in the pictures,” says De Middel, “I rebuilt documents adapting them to my personal imagery.”

De Middel, who has diversified from news photojournalism into fine art, is always attracted to photography that avoids the usual documentary subjects and stories told in the same old ways, so it is no coincidence Afronauts has the look of b-movie film set.

[Source i09.com]

53 Comments

  1. +2
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    flag Mo taim says: Mo taim
    April 24, 2012 at 4:06 pm |

    Lovely.Mukuka Nkoloso was a genius.

    Reply
    1. 0
      -1
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      flag Dojo Do says: Dojo Do
      January 1, 2013 at 7:05 pm |

      Ni dobo chabe mudala!

  2. +1
    -1
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    flag kelsia says: kelsia
    April 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm |

    he was a crown who dreamt big..

    Reply
    1. +2
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      flag HH is Diffikotti says: HH is Diffikotti
      April 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm |

      A crown ka? Or you the clown mate

  3. vote
    flag Mwape Mbokeme says: Mwape Mbokeme
    April 24, 2012 at 4:19 pm |

    Going to Mars with a “space-Girl”, two cats and a missionary? Sounds odd. That was then and up til now, no one has been. Perhaps the UN should have listened to Mr Nkoloso and advanced him the $7m he needed for the project becuase who knows, he coud have landed on Mars with deafening thunder!

    Reply
  4. vote
    flag Patambala says: Patambala
    April 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm |

    Following independence for the central African nation in 1964, …..Is Zambia in Southern Africa or Central africa please help.. The wise come from the eastern province but they disappeared in western province..Nkoloso is bemba

    Reply
    1. vote
      flag lucas says: lucas
      April 24, 2012 at 5:12 pm |

      what does it have to do with tribes?

    2. +1
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      flag Joe says: Joe
      April 24, 2012 at 6:43 pm |

      Zambia is in between central and southern. she is at the end of central and beginning of southern. it is much referred to as southern because of its trade ties (links) with most southern African countries especially south Africa. does that answer your question?

  5. +2
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    flag back becher says: back becher
    April 24, 2012 at 4:41 pm |

    you guys ,you made my day with this story.i was stressed the whole day.at least i found something to make me laugh and relax.

    Reply
    1. vote
      flag David says: David
      April 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm |

      Took words right out of my month…lol.

  6. +1
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    flag ndolic says: ndolic
    April 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm |

    Our dream come a long way

    Reply
  7. vote
    flag Nubian Princess says: Nubian Princess
    April 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm |

    He dared to dream. It is important.

    Reply
  8. vote
    flag Nubian Princess says: Nubian Princess
    April 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm |

    Ok, Nkoloso was a pioneer, but the video is slaying me!

    Reply
  9. 0
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    flag Dojo do says: Dojo do
    April 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm |

    KK should have channelled that energy into other matters of national importance of the time..

    Reply
  10. vote
    flag Lynn says: Lynn
    April 24, 2012 at 5:24 pm |

    LOL ….The fitness exercises for the Space program are to die for.They really give Billy Blanks a run for his money! 

    Reply
  11. vote
    flag U and me r Zambians says: U and me r Zambians
    April 24, 2012 at 5:38 pm |

    Nice one…

    Reply
  12. +1
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    flag irrationalman says: irrationalman
    April 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm |

    can someone pick up were nkoloso left

    Reply
    1. vote
      flag Adage says: Adage
      January 1, 2013 at 11:35 am |

      You have asked so go for it brother

  13. vote
    flag First Gentleman says: First Gentleman
    April 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm |

    Professor Difficult Dr Bikiloni Nkolosoo.

    Reply
  14. vote
    flag Trigo says: Trigo
    April 24, 2012 at 5:55 pm |

    # 4 Patambala that’s a good question…..

    Reply
  15. vote
    flag scientist/engineer in europe says: scientist/engineer in europe
    April 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm |

    its great to sea and read about such people.i think in our zambian history i put him on the greatest thinkers of our history i wish he was still alive i would have loved to see him

    Reply
  16. vote
    flag Ice_Road_Trucker says: Ice_Road_Trucker
    April 24, 2012 at 6:14 pm |

    Ifyamba.

    Reply
  17. vote
    flag B R Mumba, Sr says: B R Mumba, Sr
    April 24, 2012 at 6:27 pm |

    One of the smartest people of the Zambian Enterprise, he was … ahead of his time, he was too. We will eventually build on his legacy some day except the launch site will be in Zambezi District one of the best places on earth to view eclipses from … it is also one of the cheapest and easiest places for reaching escape velocity from on earth. Nkoloso was just way ahead of his time, ZASA (Zambia Aeronautical Space Agency) shall live one day, and the first spacecraft will be called NKOLOSO

    Reply
    1. vote
      flag This makes me cringe says: This makes me cringe
      September 9, 2013 at 11:26 am |

      B R Mumba, Sr., no wonder Africa is a basket case.

  18. +1
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    flag Musonda says: Musonda
    April 24, 2012 at 6:35 pm |

    The people who are crazy enough to think they can go the Mars – ARE THE ONES WHO DO!

    Reply
    1. vote
      flag Dojo do says: Dojo do
      April 24, 2012 at 7:43 pm |

      Excellent!

  19. vote
    flag A Phiri ana bwe... says: A Phiri ana bwe...
    April 24, 2012 at 6:40 pm |

    :) Missed opportunity to win the space race. If only we had a crust of bread and film studio… Sorry NASA. I couldn’t resist a free wind up :)

    Reply
  20. vote
    flag scientist/engineer in europe says: scientist/engineer in europe
    April 24, 2012 at 6:45 pm |

    if most of us africans were like nkoloso we would have contributed to science but negativity

    Reply
  21. vote
    flag DEVELOPER says: DEVELOPER
    April 24, 2012 at 6:50 pm |

    Jokes aside guys, you don’t just laugh at signs of innovation. I remember the case of a gentleman called Hachinzobo who came up with a project on how to improve operations of Zambia Railways. Politicians shut him down without investigating his idea. Then there was an UNZA Engineering student (Beriat Sunkutu) who wanted to conduct research in the effects of Electromagnetic Energy on human tissue. Our local scientists did not want to listen to his presentations. This was in 1974 if my memory is correct. Since that time, there has been a lot of research in Electromagnetics and us as humans have benfited from such work, Just imagine where Zambia would be if we supported each other in these research initiatives.Stay united and work hard to develop Zambia. One Zambia One Nation.

    Reply
  22. vote
    flag B R Mumba, Sr says: B R Mumba, Sr
    April 24, 2012 at 6:56 pm |

    Nkoloso was talking about Mars when everyone talking about the moon, and currently there are privately funded programs looking at going to Mars close to fifty (50) years after he started his space program. The arrival of three astronauts at the ISS on Nov. 2, 2000, sparked one NASA official to remark, “We’re going into space forever with people first circling this globe, and then we’re going to Mars….”

    Reply
  23. +1
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    flag msana wanzili says: msana wanzili
    April 24, 2012 at 7:10 pm |

    My word !! what a legend this fellow is. Miles ahead of today’s useless Zambian engineers being churned by an equally useless University, all they know is conning government by doing shody road works and drinking na maule.

    Reply
  24. vote
    flag @#$%&! says: @#$%&!
    April 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm |

    I like his Hitler look. If only our scientists and engineers could dream this big. We may have at least invented the bungee jump!

    Reply
  25. vote
    flag Polokondo says: Polokondo
    April 24, 2012 at 8:38 pm |

    Col Mukuka Nkoloso.I remember the old man visiting Napsa offices znpf then glad in a full ceremonial army uniform as an honorary Col,KK bestowed on him in the late 80s.

    Reply
  26. vote
    flag Steel says: Steel
    April 24, 2012 at 9:22 pm |

    what happen to visionary Zambians like these, I am so proud of these “crackpots”. everything starts with a dream…remember the famous speech by Martin L. King “I have a dream…., today the USA has a black president” I can appreciate he was only a teacher and hope he taught many pupils to think outside the box…dream big and act on it even if you fail to achieve the dream at least you may have laid the foundations for future generations to build on…In 1964 Korea was like us today the have a space program “visionaries”  

    Reply
  27. vote
    flag Rod says: Rod
    April 24, 2012 at 9:36 pm |

    He was just a kid in a man’s body. He is just like kids who make wire cars!

    Reply
  28. vote
    flag Nostradamus says: Nostradamus
    April 24, 2012 at 9:58 pm |

    I am totally baffled.. I need meditation before I read this article!!

    Reply
  29. vote
    flag Bokosi says: Bokosi
    April 25, 2012 at 1:32 am |

    Mad scientist…

    Reply
  30. vote
    flag VJ Rigger says: VJ Rigger
    April 25, 2012 at 9:21 am |

    Ifyamba ba Nkoloso.$7m would have gone kuma **** yamuma 60’s.

    Reply
  31. vote
    flag Dag Mils says: Dag Mils
    April 25, 2012 at 10:11 am |

    It shocks to learn that  we had such brainy people in Zambia but why doesnt the system allow for people to do on constructive projects and not on Rural research programs #21 mentions some people who had projects but later where thought of as mad scientists, politicians please wake up and support these people and not just thinking of what you will get from the change coming from the road projects, Lets develop this country PLEASE………!!!!!

    Reply
  32. +1
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    flag Courage says: Courage
    April 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm |

    Crackpots indeed!

    Reply
  33. vote
    flag Umupondo says: Umupondo
    April 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm |

    Children, you see what happens when you smoke bad weed? The effects of that ‘high’ are long term. Your dilusional mind becomes the norm even after so many years…case in point: Mr. Nkoloso.
    In short, DO NOT SMOKE WEED (chamba, ibange, dobo), period!

    Reply
  34. vote
    flag Umupondo says: Umupondo
    April 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm |

    Still can’t get over the video…LMFAO, yaba. There’s no such thing as a boring day!

    Reply
  35. vote
    flag Hello says: Hello
    April 25, 2012 at 6:38 pm |

    Where is Mr. Nkoloso now? Indeed Zambia has not been very supportive to dreamers! I remember I had a friend at the National Scientic Research of Zambia who was great in research and they had many programs but poor funding cost them. Also more attention was being given to “Uwabuta” from outside than the locals! U.S.A. and other developed countries give money to dreamers in their countries and you now can see the result. We should encourage dreamers and both the private and GRZ must fund innovative projects! Go Zambia, go!

    Reply
    1. vote
      flag vk says: vk
      January 3, 2013 at 8:39 am |

      Mr Nkoloso is late. After the space program failed, he built a one engine plane. During the flight test, the plane crashed on landing and Mr Nkoloso died in that crash. The Man was a genius. MHSRP.

  36. vote
    flag OKEY says: OKEY
    January 1, 2013 at 8:28 am |

    UMUSEBANYA.

    Reply
  37. vote
    flag Adage says: Adage
    January 1, 2013 at 11:49 am |

    80% of Zambians are pessimistic and have negative attitudes. It will never help us. We are negative towards ourselves, negative over our country and negative against one another our governments operate 95% in the negative. that is why most Africans run away from their countries and go to the west where they say it is clean. When they are in their own country they are the ones that throw rubbish anywhere and then complain about it. Keep Zambia clean exists only on papers, cars and bill boards. You find a vehicle written; KEEP ZAMBIA CLEAN, and it is parked in middle of heaps of trash. What a contrast. We have to change the way we think and look at things

    Reply
  38. vote
    flag observer#10 says: observer#10
    January 2, 2013 at 2:26 pm |

    interesting stuff! wish i could learn more about this guy!

    Reply
  39. vote
    flag TEMBO says: TEMBO
    January 3, 2013 at 2:35 am |

    PLEASE REPORTER, TRACK DOWN THE FAMILY, IT WOULD BE GREAT TO Talk to HIM OR THE PEOPLE THAT WERE INVOLVED “WHERE ARE THEY NOW?”
    UPADTE TWAPAPATA!!!

    Reply
  40. vote
    flag dullah says: dullah
    September 24, 2013 at 12:43 pm |

    d man has made name for his self. is better to try and fail than not to try at all. go back to d history of all d great inventions, u will be shocked on how crude they started. only ***** will mock this great hero.

    Reply
  41. vote
    flag dullah says: dullah
    September 24, 2013 at 12:44 pm |

    d man has made name for him self. is better to try and fail than not to try at all. go back to d history of all d great inventions, u will be shocked on how crude they started. only ***** will mock this great hero.

    Reply
  42. vote
    flag AK says: AK
    December 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm |

    not realistic. I wish Chainama was operating by then. was this guy really normal?

    Reply
  43. vote
    flag mutale kabwe says: mutale kabwe
    December 27, 2013 at 1:11 pm |

    lam realy sorry for what the government did,if they had suported this man his project could have been accomplished.All zambians lets pray together to God someone will come and start from where Edward Mukuka Festus Nkoloso ended.

    Reply
  44. vote
    flag Realist says: Realist
    December 27, 2013 at 3:21 pm |

    I can’t believe that sane people that can read and write seriously think this lunatic had any chance of getting more than 10 metres off the ground. Come on! Get real.

    Reply

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