Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Zambia’s forgotten Space Program


On Oct. 30, 1964, TIME magazine reported on the celebration of the independence of Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia), with its new president, Kenneth Kaunda.

But as the jubilant crowds celebrated, one man complained that the festivities were interfering with his “space program.” Edward Makuka Nkoloso informed the TIME reporter that his Zambian “astronauts” would beat both the US and the Soviet Union in the space race — by going to the moon, and then to Mars.

This was an unusual boast, to say the least. At the time, Zambia’s population numbered 3.6 million, with barely 1500 African-born high school graduates and less than 100 college graduates. Nkoloso himself was a grade-school science teacher, and self-appointed director of the country’s (unofficial) National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy.

But he had big dreams, namely, using a catapult-inspired “firing system” to send a 10×6 aluminum and copper rocket holding ten Zambians and a 17-year-old African girl (and her cat) to Mars. He figured he could get them to the moon by 1965. All he needed was $700 million from UNESCO to fund the project.

In a newspaper editorial, Nkoloso claimed to have studied Mars for some time from telescopes at his “secret headquarters” outside Lusaka, and announced that the planet was populated by primitive natives. (He graciously added that his missionaries would not force the native Martians to convert to Christianity.) In fact, he said, he could have achieved the conquest of Mars a mere few days after Zambia’s independence had UNESCO come through with the funding. Oh, he also called for the detention of Russian and American spies trying to steal his “space secrets” — and his cats.
It’s hard not to like Nkoloso, based on what little we know of him today. Here’s a grade school science teacher setting up his own national space program with a small group of trainees who had to roll downhill in a 44-gallon oil drum as part of Nkoloso’s plan to simulate the sensation of rushing through space. Zero gravity? He simulated that by having them swing from the end of a long rope, cutting the rope when they reached the highest point so they went into freefall. He also taught them how to walk on their hands, “the only way humans could walk on the moon.”

Naive? Ignorant? Sure. Especially in light of his less than dedicated volunteers: “They won’t concentrate on space flight; there’s too much love-making when they should be studying the moon,” he complained. Indeed, the much-touted girl astronaut, Matha, became pregnant and her parents brought her back to their village.

Nkoloso’s astronauts never got to Mars. Or the moon. Or even out of Lusaka. The Zambian government carefully distanced itself from his project. Even today, the US is the only country to have successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars, and has yet to spearhead a manned mission to the red planet. But while Nkoloso may have been a bit crazy, he had clearly zeroed in on the future: space travel was going to be a big deal. And he wanted Zambia to be a part of it.

We’re going to Mars!


by Edward Makuka Nkoloso

I see the Zambia of the future as a space age Zambia,more advanced than Russia or America.In fact in my academy of scientists our thinking is six or seven years ahead of both powers.
It is unlucky for Lusaka that I did not have a chance to run for mayor.If I had been elected the capital city of Zambia would have be4en another Paris if not New York.

If I had been mayor matero kamwala and chilenje suburbs would quicklyb have been filled with flats and skyscrapers.Old houses would have vanished.
But never mind we will have our Paris yet.If I had had my way Zambia would have been born with the blast of the academys rocket being launched into space.But the Independence celebrations committee said that would terrify the guests and possibly the whole population.I think they were worried about the dust and noise.
Crew ready
Its a great pity,all is ready at our secret headquaters in a valley about seven miles from Lusaka.The rocket could havev been launched from indepence stadium and Zambia would have conquered Mars only a few days after Independence.Yes thats where we plan to go – Mars.
We have been studying the planet through telescopes at our headquaters and are now certain Mars is populated by primitive natives.Our rocket crew is ready.
Specially trained space girl Matha Mwamba two cats(also specially trained) and a missionary will be launched in our first rocket.
But I have warned the missionary he must not force christianity on the people in Mars if they do not want it.
One other difficulty has been holding us up.UNESCO has not replied to our request for £7,000,000 and we need that money for our rocket programme.Then we can lead world science.
I feel the Zambian government should help now if we are to become controllers of the Seventh Heaven Interstellar space.The government must pass strong bills to deal with the satanic plots of our enemies.
I have known for a long time that Russian spies are operating in Zambia.Yes and American spies are all over town too.They are all trying to capture Matha and the cats.They want our space secrets.
These people must be dealt with immediately after independence if I am to keep my space lead.Dtention without trial for all spies is what we need.
Otherwise I am happy with the Government but it must encourage youngsters to join the academy.
At the moment they have knocked down my academy building in matero.That is not good.I hope they build modern flats in its place to provide more offices for us.
The capital of the new scientfic Zambia must look beautiful.People from afar must not see a slum as the capital of the worlds greatest scientific state.
Zambians are inferior to no men in science technology.My space plan will surely be carried out.

Weird as that might sound, the Zambian astronaut made international headlines with his ingenious invention, attracting interviews from Times magazine and Discovery Channel

But there was only one problem, Mr. Nkoloso needed US$700 million from UNESCO to fund the project and that was about 46 years ago.

His idea had to die a natural death, leaving Zambians and other followers of his invention with so many unanswered questions.

In fact one of the concerned citizens wrote the Ministry of Science and Technology.

He wanted to find out the outcome of the 1964 space flight program and if the project had received any funding from well wishers.

The Director
Ministry of Technology

Dear Sir,

Could you inform me of the outcome of Zambia’s space flight program of the 1960s.

An official news report of November 3 1964 stated:

America and Russia may lose the race to the moon, according to Edward Mukaka Nkoloso, Director-General of the Zambia National Academy of Space Research.
His ten Zambian astronauts and a seventeen-year-old African girl are poised for the countdown. He said: “I’ll have my first Zambian astronaut on the moon by 1965. My spacemen are ready, but we’re having a few difficulties…we are using my own firing system, derived from the catapult.”

Mr. Nkoloso continued: “To really get going we need about seven hundred million pounds. It sounds a lot of money, but imagine the prestige value it would earn for Zambia. But I’ve had trouble with my space-men and space-women. They won’t concentrate on space-flight; there’s too much love-making when they should be studying the moon. Matha Mwamba, the seventeen-year-old girl who had been chosen to be the first coloured woman on Mars, has also to feed her ten cats, who will be her companions on the long space flight… 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. This gives them the feeling of rushing through space. I also make them swing from the end of a long rope. When they reach the highest point, I cut the rope – this produces a feeling of free fall.”

I assume that the request for seven hundred million pounds was made by Z.N.A.S.R. to the United Nations. Please inform me whether Zambia received the grant and whether significant progress in space flight resulted.
Yours sincerely,

Government’s response was precise:


P.O. Box 50065

11th July, 1988

Mr B. Stett,

Dear Sir,

I refer to your letter dated 24th May, 1988 in connection with outcome of Zambia’s space programme.

I wish to inform you that the matter under discussion was never seriously taken up by the Zambian Government and as such no official backing was rendered to Mr. Mukaka Nkoloso’s efforts. The programme therefore died a natural death.

Yours faithfully,
E. N. Kamuyuw

Assistant Secretary
for/ Permanent Secretary
Ministry of Power, Transport And Communications

[Discovery News,,Tripod]


  1. Hahahaha….interesting. Funny as it maybe but that is exctly how our friends have progressed by dreaming the impossible.

  2. Ha ha ha I actually saw the video clip of his preparations. Pure lunancy if you ask me. He talked even wrote like a disillusioned fellow. The only positive I can pick is he wished Zambia could develop like the super powers had done. “I have known for a long time that Russian spies are operating in Zambia.Yes and American spies are all over town too.They are all trying to capture Matha and the cats.They want our space secrets” Lmao!!

  3. Bravo Nkoloso!
    He, at least, had a vision.
    “It is unlucky for Lusaka that I did not have a chance to run for mayor. If I had been elected the capital city of Zambia would have be4en another Paris if not New York. If I had been mayor Matero Kamwala and Chilenje suburbs would quickly have been filled with flats and skyscrapers.Old houses would have vanished”

    “The capital of the new scientific Zambia must look beautiful.People from afar must not see a slum as the capital of the worlds greatest scientific state”

  4. But he had big dreams, namely, using a catapult-inspired “firing system” to send a 10×6 aluminum and copper rocket holding ten Zambians and a 17-year-old African girl (and her cat) to Mars

  5. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha That shud have been one of the biggest jokes of the time. Honestly using imilegeni to launch a rocket cum spacecraft. Did they ever check out the sanity of the same man. Anyways this article has made my day. I rest my case for now.

  6. What happened to Nkoloso ba LT? Reporting is never complete until you tie the past to the present. Does any blogger know the whereabouts of Nkoloso and his crew? How did he abandon this plan?

  7. cont from #5:

    This is the first time I have heard about this story!! Yaba, I know at Independence a lot of Zambians had dreams for their beautiful Country, but this was way out of this world. Maybe his dreams of becoming a Mayor for Lusaka would have worked out for him. That doesn’t sound so “overly ambitious”. And wouldn’t have required such a huge sum of money ($700 million). Who knows, with the kind of enthusiasm he displayed about his “Space Program” he might have succeeded building a Paris/New York in Zambia. However, even “JAH PEOPLE” who lives on HERB have realistic dreams, Mr Nkoloso!!!

    Hahahahahahahahaha kekekekekekeke, my ribs are hurting, let me stop now!! Really funny!!!!!!!!

  8. All commentators on this blog conclude that Nkoloso was mad.This is because these days you young men think too much and careful (cowards).Such undertakings can not be done by someone who think carefully and smart like most of you above.It takes one with a different world view to achieve such big dreams or just to start thinking about such things.Today many of us have become so dependent and anyone who think different from those in the west you call is mad.Ingenuity goes beyond the normal thinking of many.atleast Nkoloso could also think of making the capital city better…today the so-called educated & normal pipo are still moving on ground full of dust,including at govt buildings.Scientific research is a process.we could ve developed from where Nkoloso began.COMMON SENSE!

  9. Well, it would Mr Nkoloso was weird but i dare say when a nation, an individual stops dreaming, death sets in. I mean, we are all now resigned to being consigned to a poverty stricken, under developed and under achiever nation. We seem content with this. Any hope of Zambia, Africa overtaking the Americas and Europe? Our brothers in Asia and the mid east are right now asking serious questions about the world order. Us?

  10. #11, Colonel Edward Mukuka Nkoloso LLB (Unza), was a UNIP freedom fighter alongside the Kaundas, Kapwepwes, Kamangas etc. His space program was abandoned for lack of funds. He later became a senior official in the UNIP Youth league, worked at the Liberation Center, an institution that coordinated activities of the liberation movements in the region (Swapo, anc, zapu, frelimo,ect). He died in the late 80s and was accorded a state funeral.

  11. “One other difficulty has been holding us up.UNESCO has not replied to our request for £7,000,000”

    LT, how does that translate to £700 Million, pleas have your reporters learn suffixes. this is getting embarssing.

  12. #12
    Hahha…Had the opportunity to see the old man. We were kids back then and he looked queer and so we would scamper each time we saw him at a distance…wonder why come to think of it…maybe its because he always seemed to be dressed in military regalia….and we were afraid of soldiers as kids. That was in kafue estates .Thats my memory of him. RIP gallant man of the soil.

  13. Funny as it maybe but atleast the man had a dream,you have to be mad to be extraordinary.The project was real,it was only due to luck of funding.
    These days our infrastructure is dilapidated due to luck of funding

  14. Wanzelu @24, I agree with you. Even the American space programme begun with the dream. The dreamers in America were lucky because their society supports dreaming and turning those dreams into reality. In Zambia – you are a dreamer – you are accused of being a satanist as is the case with this man – you are not taken seriously. That is probably why we are not progressing as much. Our universities are full of excellent research work in science, techonology engineering, but they just gather dust while the MMD continue making promises of Jobs to Young PEOPLE when those research papers if turned into actual projects would generate a lot of jobs. We need to pannel bit our inner-self to start believing in ourselves as a Zambian people. Put this story in our history books to inspire YOUTH dreams!!

  15. Great story! he was a visionary.I agree 100% with #14 common sense.
    #17 and 22 thanks for the data about Nkoloso.
    Lusaka missed a great opportunity to have a good mayor.Nkoloso would have transformed it into the likes of Paris or New York.Do we still have visionaries like him in Zambia?

  16. You just have to Love the Old man Mr Nkoloso, i saw a clip of his traning program on a film called 50 Terrible Decisions aired by the BBC i think [Not sure]… Mr Nkoloso’s clip was number 22.

  17. #14, i agree . Only mad people move the world. one scientist through himself through the window thinking he was discarding a butt of cigarette. Even to run the Post in this country, you have to be some kind of senile! We need a lot of mad dreamers.sicarding a butt of cigarette.

  18. If you have no imagination to dream, you are dead! The late Edward Mukuka Nkoloso was a very ambitious, brave and courageous man who could have done very well if he was in the company of other dreamers. The Americans have continued to dream and that is how they keep pace with progress and leave the conformists behind. I dare all Zambians to dream of a better Zambia with a performing civil service and central government!

  19. Such a guy should be buried at a national cemetary. He was as great as the guys who dreamed up of going to the moon, only that they had engineers and other educated (technically educated) people both in government and outside it to give NASA the necessary boost. With poorly equipped fellows that populate the MMD, even KK with his Form 2 beats them hands down. Some of them are so wayward that they think that Mobile Hospitals are th solution to a country without roads!!

  20. He He He Mr. Nkoloso was a strict man. He complained that instead of his astraunats concentrating on training, they were busy making LOVE.

  21. This is the best online article i have read this week. I am wondering where the then 17yr old girl is now?
    His dreams should not have been supressed completely.

  22. Bana go on Youtube and type:50 Terrible Decisions : Zambian Astronauts.Watch the clip and those who say this man had a vision,then I must say some visions are indeed visionless.

  23. The Atlantic Mag. said: Maybe we could write off the press coverage as the sort of “Ain’t it Weird!” kind of coverage that everyone loves. But that Time note was gratuitously tacked onto the end of an otherwise straight and serious narration of the country’s independence celebration. In some hands, Nkoloso’s “program” was a backdoor way for Westerners to mock African aspirations in the wake of the very real upheavals caused by independence. Time even ironically headlined its article, “Tomorrow the Moon.”

    But not all news agencies tried to tie the nation’s independence to the ravings of some random guy. Sky Broadcasting’s reporter acknowledged that the “space program” was not a reflection of the nation. “To most Zambians, these people are just a bunch of crackpots,” he…

  24. #39 you think youtube & the western guys can potray u in a good way?forget!Dreams are dead coz Z or africa we have pushed ourselves beyond the limits so pipo are more concerned about what other pipo will think of them.pipo to sensitive about material things tthats why not possible to ve pipo who can sacrifice for the country now.A country where i am powerful and distiguished great men we commute buses,subway(train),can that happen in Zambia?beautiful 16 girls and leaders of powerful govt ride bicycles,can that happen in Zambia?We live above limits hence no sacrifice for human development but personal fulfilment.R and D calls for sacrifice and its a calling of dedicate men and women.Common Sense!

  25. He was not mad, he was a visionary. Most technology we enjoy now was deemed impossible by scholars. Thhe future belongs to those who think out of the box. In zambia we get educated to find a good job. Thats a tragedy.

  26. Everyone is laughing at Nkoloso. The man was smart. Had he accessed those funds, a programme would actually have materialised then. All he would have done was to sit back and process applications. With that kind of dream and funding, astronauts and scientists would have started flocking Nkoloso in Zambia with their blue prints. I think he was kinda smarter than most of the bloggers laughing him off here. I mean, the dude even attracted TIME from New York! Nkoloso was clever. Had he gotten the funding, for sure the programme would have kicked off, to some extent, of course.

  27. I have to admit I laughed and hit the floor when I first saw the video on youtube. I don’t even know how I came onto the video or who sent to me. Reading this article just makes me laugh more especially the making love part. However, this man was a visionary, I think even in his misguided methods he knew that space travel was the wave of the future. Imagine Zambia being the first to the moon, and I think this man understood the importance of space exploration. I commend the big dreams, but I excuse me if I keep laughing about the drum and cats… Mr. Koloso (true zed visionary) MHSRIP

  28. You can laugh as much as you want but as most bloggers have said, it is this kind thinking and approach that led to designing a plane, from ‘wired dreams’ of the wright brothers;the flying machine was born, cars and many other machines were invented. So there is nothing wrong with Mr Nkoloso’s approach but one of the first Zambians who dared to dream and believed in his dreams. A thing most of you bloggers can not even fathom but only shot bullet holes in other peoples dreams from your arm chair while waiting for UMUSUNGU to tell you what to do! For god’s sake DREAM once in your life time and have a vision for yourself and the country! Thats why we so much in debt and our leader are cheap a$$ corrupt politician.They can sell Zed just for an opportunity to eat a burger in London!

  29. I have watched a grainy black and white clip of Mr Nkoloso and his Astronauts. I think Mr Nkoloso was a dreamer and his followers should have been called asto-NUTS! The film clip features among the 50 most stupid things in the last century, I believe on Discovery or National Geographic channel! The reason is very simple: Mr Nkoloso had no mathematical calculations on trajectories and what force was needed to escape the gravitational force of the earth. One doesn’t just jump to go to space!

  30. Humourous, I know, but we need more such dreamers; some actually turn out to be visionaries. Every invention starts with a dream.

  31. Unlike most of us,he had a dream,a big one at that.we nid more myndz lyk that pa zed.unza is busy egesting graduates who can’t even be entrepreneurs.

  32. The Malegeni Physics is quiet plausible. Let’s get serious here; yes, you can catapult a projectile into space. It is the Elascitisty of the Malegeni and the Mass of the Projectile that matters if you factor in, all the plantery gravitational forces. I will not laugh at this patriotic Zambian like the baZungus did on their blog “”. Check it out.
    His, was a dream that we should still be pursuing. Bearing in mind how far we have come from the days of oppression to the Presidential Jet. Nice one LT. Keep it up.

  33. The guy was smart and a thinker. He imagined being six to seven years ahead of the Russians and Americans!! Now that’s what you call a thinker! Dont take away his hard work too! There is too much love making when they should be studying the moon!LOL

    Why was the flag waving on the Moon when there is no wind there?
    If it were wind, why wasn’t the dust being blown around too?

  35. Oh yes, when I was young then living in Matero, I used to see some activity by Humanism Hill. True enough they were into it simulating all kinds of things. What the governmnt should have done is send him to the NASA center and have him get exposed to rocketry techniques which I believe he hadn’t gotten full understanding of it’s operation. I am sure he could have learnt a lot and passed on the knowledge to the young ones. When things like this happen, we must seriously evaluate them and assist with resource acquisition if viable. Can somebody tell me what has happened to Hachinzobo? This gentleman had an experiment to do with the railway system. Who knows how far we could have progressed had we paid attention to his idea. I don’t know what else is happening.

  36. There is another gentleman on the copperbelt who fabricates small cars. He already has te skills needed to manufacture cars, let’s use his talent to move Zambia forward in automobile assembly. I know we have a lot of talented Zambians who can make a difference. It just happens that we don’t give them the attention they deserve to further encourage them do more research. Another guy I can think of is Beriat Sunkutu who was brilliant in mathematics and physics. He trully did some limited research on the effects of electromagnetic waves emissions from television sets. People did not want to listen to him and all the could tell him was that it was a waste of time. Come today, a lot of scientists are engrosed in electromagnetic radiation research. Let’s put the knowledge to use and prosper.

  37. Everything starts with a dream, he might not have understood how to get to Mars then, but with proper funding and support am sure he or someone else would have figured it out and improved on his belief. We find his thinking ridiculous now, because we now know that there are not living creatures on Mars, and we only know this after years and years of research. Remember our forefather even thought the earth was flat only after some serious study and years of debating did they figure out that the earth was not flat.
    So yes Nkoloso might sound mad but lets remember that even the USA space program started from somewhere ridiculous. Am sure this wouldn’t have been a joke if he was a white man working at NASA. But on a lighter note i find his story funny, but i give him a thumbs up for trying.

  38. He was above normal (abnormal) and very intelligent & visionary, far ahead of his time and location. I wish more Zambian can be like that, then we can development, however we lack vision. when Solomon said , “Where there is no vision, the people perish”, am sure he was referring to Africans. Going off to have a Mosi

  39. He was more knowledgeable than the modern avarege Zambian, the majority of which dont read. #1, ku mars na maleggen yes, but what u ought to understand is that the maleggen thing was just a concept he was trying to use to explein his point, say to a layman, but he had the real ideas besides that. And obviouslty for him to have a budget estimate on $700million, that means the program wasnt just an ordinary one but a hell well complicated one. Remember when KK used to talk of “oil from grass”! everyone thought the man was out of his mind. But hey, where are we now, we have bio-oils “FROM GRASS”! It all started with just the fall of an apple onto the head of that hungry English chap called Newton to formulate even the equations that govern the same Science that Nkoloso wanted to use to…

  40. People from around the world are invited to “star” in a social media movement to bring to the big screen the true story of the ultimate challenger to the U.S. and Soviets during the great space race to the moon. . . Zambia.
    The “Zambians In Space” movie project is based on a historically true story. This is an African “Don Quixote” & “Cool Runnings” meets “The Right Stuff” comedy.
    The “Zambians in Space” movie project creators are looking for everyone to help create a video to pitch “Zambians In Space” to the motion picture industry.
    For more information and the full movie treatment visit or

  41. He dared to dream!
    At least he had a dream.
    He thought outside the box
    We need a whole lot more people like him
    in this world!
    People not afraid to voice their ideas
    and opinions.
    Bravo! proud Zambian!

  42. After I initially commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any method you can remove me from that service? Thanks!

  43. True pioneer one day when we have a space program Nkoloso name will be at the epicenter of it.The Zambia we see today will be very different in future,considering the potential the land has got.It will have a science academy and a space program to boot.Hats off to Mukuka Nkoloso.

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