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Young DJ set to be 1st black African in space

MABOPANE, South Africa -- No one in Mandla Maseko's family has ever stepped outside South Africa, but the young township disc jockey is set to rocket into space next year.

From the dusty district of Mabopane, near Pretoria, 25-year-old Maseko has landed a coveted seat to fly 103-kilometers into space in 2015, after winning a competition organized by a U.S.-based space academy.

He beat a million other entrants from 75 countries to be selected as one of 23 people who will travel on an hour-long sub-orbital trip on the Lynx Mark II spaceship.

The former civil engineering student — who was forced to put his studies on hold because he could not pay the fees —will experience zero gravity and a journey that normally comes with a US$100,000 price tag — and is on course to become the first black African to enter space.

The “typical township boy,” who still lives at home with his parents and four siblings, was named one of the winners on Dec. 5, only a few hours after the death of the country's first black president, Nelson Mandela.

In his exhilaration, he also imagined a conversation with Mandela.

“'I have run the race and completed the course, now here is the torch,'” Maseko said he thought the president would have told him.

“'Continue running the race and here's the title to go with it.'”

Improbable Journey

His improbable journey from a middle-class township to the thermosphere began with a leap from a wall.

The initial entry requirement for the competitors was to submit a photograph of themselves jumping from any height.

His first choice was the roof of his parents' three-bedroom house but his mother Ouma said “no,” fearing it was too high and that he would break his legs.

He settled for the house's two-meter perimeter wall and a friend captured the feat using a mobile phone.

The picture has helped propel Maseko, who works part-time as a DJ at parties, to new heights.

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Mandla Maseko speaks to a journalist in front of two hung up NASA spacesuits, in Mabopane, north of Pretoria on Jan. 9. (AFP)

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