This weekend we were reminded that 50 years ago Neil Armstrong took his historic first steps on the moon. But I bet you didn’t know that the Zambia Space and Astronomical Research was founded in 1960 in order to make Zambia the first to put a human being on the Moon and then on Mars.
US President Kennedy promised in 1961 to land an American on the Moon by the end of that decade. However, Edward Mukaka Nkoloso, a Zambian grade-school science teacher also had space ambitions. He was a man with a dream who refused to see Africa as substandard and envisioned a space-age Zambia. He set up camp for training on an abandoned farm. He rolled his space cadets down a hill in a forty-gallon oil drum to simulate the weightless conditions of the moon. “I also make them swing from the end of a long rope,’ Mr. Nkoloso told a reporter. “When they reach the highest point, I cut the rope. This produces the feeling of free fall”.
Mr. Nkoloso planned to send his rocket, named D-Kalu 1, into space on 24 October 1964, the very date that Zambia would gain its independence. Specially trained Matha Mwambwa, a 17-year-old girl, two cats (also specially trained) would have been the first ones to blast off to space. Unfortunately Matha became pregnant and left the space program. Later Mr. Nkoloso claimed that D-Kalu 1 was ‘sabotaged by foreign elements’. And like that, his space dreams were put on hold. According to The New Yorker (11 March, 2017) nearing the end Nkoloso reportedly told a reporter: “I still feel men will [one day] freely move from one planet to another.”
Mr. Nkoloso’s larger than life aspirations unfortunately are not widely known. I just couldn’t resist writing about him when I saw his story at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore. Even though he did not succeed, he showed us that we should never be afraid of dreaming and saying, why not. This year he would have turned 100.