“We’re going to Mars with a space girl, two cats and a missionary [the missionary is given strict instructions not to foist Christianity on the primitive natives]”
After World War II the United States, the Soviet Union and Zambia realized how important rocket research would be to the military. The United States and the Soviet Union recruited the top rocket scientists from Germany to help with their research. Soon both sides were making progress in rocket technology. Meanwhile, south of Equator, a heroic initiative turned into an exotic episode of the African history was the improbable plans of a school teacher for his country to overtake the super-powers’ space race in the 1960s.
Edward Makuka Nkoloso was a man who couldn’t care less of technological fanfare and worked his heart out to do it by himself. That was how the ZNASSRP (Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy), best known as the Zambian Space Program, was born [as it could be seen in a corner of the National Museum of Art of Lusaka, in a display case were a newspaper clipping is announcing the “Conquest of Mars” by Zambia].
Little is known of Makuka besides he had already become notorious for taking part in the struggle for the independence of his country, and that he decided during a tropical African night to beat all records. While the world still didn’t know if they would be the stars and stripes or the sickle and hammer the first to be deployed on the Moon, he aspired to go further, to Mars. The precarious [and obvious lack of funds, materials, and by the way, common sense] “Space Project” was to deploy on the surface of the red planet twelve men, a girl of seventeen, and two cats.
Although never taken seriously by the Zambian government, Makuka had hoped to launch his initial rocket to coincide with the Zambian Independence ceremony of 1964 —even if he also recognized that the Committee of Celebration “was concerned about the dust and noise the rocket launch can make in nearby houses.”
However, when financial support from the United Nations wasn’t forthcoming and the space girl delayed saving the day to have a quickie with the missionary and returned pregnant to her village, his afronauts disappeared without a trace [probably the best that could happen to them, as no return plan to earth was in place and it wasn’t likely they would reach very far]. Just seeing the “secret” base outside Lusaka and their training methods, it seemed that the project wouldn’t give much out of itself.
To get acclimated to the microgravity northern astronauts dived in gigantic pools. Meanwhile, with imagination, Makuka put each applicant on a swing and pushed hard. To know the effects of changing gravity environments he put them into an empty oil drum and dropped it down the hill. And we must also remember the high technological level the rocket had, which was nothing more than a wooden cylinder prepared by a craftsman that was intended to be released with a sort of catapult. It’s said an old man from the village nearby noticed the letters “U.F.O.” printed on the side of the ship. He turned to Makuka and asked “Does U.F.O. stand for Unidentified Flying Object?” Makuka answered, “No, it stands for Unleaded Fuel Only!”
Finally the space program came to halt when Mwambwa Matha, the only girl who was going to the heavens, became pregnant before leaving the Earth and was rescued by her parents. A thought or five come to my mind when a whole space mission collapses with the disappearance of the only female member of the expedition… Anyway, the girl abandoned the project with the two cats and a future afronaut popping out her womb.
After a while Makuka accused both Soviets and Americans of spying and sabotaging his plans to conquer space so he won’t take the lead. He knew “Russian and American spies were in Zambia trying to kidnap Matha and the two cats.” Meanwhile he is still waiting for a UNESCO’s answer to his requests for astronomical sums of money to finance what was left to finalize the project, i.e.: 100% of it.
Betweenwhiles the Russians won the space race and the Americans —supposedly— the moon race, even though this wouldn’t be exactly correct.
The true heroes of the early space programs were cosmoflies and astrochimps (and several other species) without passport, who went up before any of the first cosmonauts (sailors of the universe) or astronauts (star sailors) did. They won the space race but more of them made the ultimate sacrifice.
Afronauts – Dugutigui