From a catapult to Mars: how astronauts from Zambia tried to beat the USSR in the space race

Edward Nkoloso, as befits a romantic hero, wore a battle helmet, a khaki military uniform and a fluttering cape of multi-colored silk and velvet with an embroidered collar when walking.

Edward Nkoloso, as befits a romantic hero, wore a battle helmet, a khaki military uniform and a fluttering cape of multi-colored silk and velvet with an embroidered collar when walking.

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On October 24, 1964, Zambia resolutely parted with the past and declared its independence from Great Britain. A week later, Time magazine ran an article featuring Zambia’s first president, Kenneth David Kaunde, as the protagonist. The author described him as a nice guy, calling for “positive neutrality” in the Cold War, and at the end he mentioned another character.

“Edward Mukuka Nkoloso, elementary school science teacher, director of the National Academy of Sciences, space research, philosopher claimed that what was happening prevented his space program, aimed at getting ahead of the US and the USSR on the moon. Nkoloso is already training 12 astronauts, including a curvaceous 16-year-old girl, by spinning them around a tree in a barrel and teaching them how to walk on their hands, saying, “this is the only way humans can walk on the moon.”

The mention of the African space program caused a flurry of interest. What is it: a joke of a journalist or an advertising campaign?

“Some people think I’m crazy,” Nkoloso himself admitted in an interview. “But I will laugh the day I can plant the Zambian flag on the moon.


Edward Nkoloso, as befits a romantic hero, wore a battle helmet, a khaki military uniform and a fluttering cape of multi-colored silk and velvet with an embroidered collar when walking. There were medals on the chest. His Afronauts sometimes wore green satin jackets with yellow trousers. 21-year-old Godfrey Mwango was assigned to land on the moon. 16-year-old Matha Mwambe is on Mars. Nkoloso’s dog, Cyclops, was to take the trail of the Soviet Laika and follow her path. The rest of the astronauts carried the Zambian flag and a crested eagle staff on a plate.

Nkoloso happily demonstrated pre-flight preparations to journalists. He rolled his wards down the hill in a 200-liter oil barrel to simulate weightlessness, made them swing on swings and bungee.

“When they reach the highest point, I cut the rope – this creates a feeling of free fall,” Nkoloso explained.

As a spacecraft (a barrel-rocket named after the President of Kaunda – D-Kalu 1″), refueled, the Zambian Korolev considered a “mukva” – a device very similar to a catapult. At the beginning, a height of three meters was reached, then it was decided to increase it with longer ropes.


The goal of his space program, Nkoloso officially declared the planting of Christianity to the primitive Martian tribes. But in private conversations with the Afronauts, he urged not to impose earthly religion on the Martians.

For the sake of realizing his dream, Edward Nkoloso turned to Israel, the USSR, the USA, the United Arab Republic and UNESCO for funding. The requested amount was rather big – from 20 million to 2 billion dollars. But apart from words of support and 10 rupees from one compassionate Indian schoolboy, Nkoloso received nothing.

The Zambian dreamer insisted that his space program was more progressive than the Soviet and American ones, but refused to share the details.

– No one can be trusted with a project of this magnitude. Some of our ideas are ahead of the Americans and Russians, so I will not allow anyone to study my missile plans, Nkoloso said.

True, the Zambian still negotiated with NASA. He tried to agree on a joint flight to the moon, but with one condition – they must first set the flag of Zambia.


The space program ended in August 1965 before it could begin.

“My astronauts thought they were movie stars and demanded money,” Nkoloso complained. “Two of my best guys had a party a month ago, and no one has seen them since… Another one joined the tribal song and dance ensemble.

In the end, his favorite Mata Mwamba also left Nkoloso. It is unknown who made her pregnant, but the event caused her to give up her dream of distant galaxies.

The inventor was sorely lacking money, even state support did not save him. Nkoloso blamed everything on “imperialist neo-colonizers who are frightened by Zambia’s knowledge of space.”

In the West, Nkoloso was laughed at, some English journalists called him crazy, and politicians even called Edward’s activities proof of the recklessness that led to the independence of African countries.


The term “afronaut” is an invention of Nkoloso. He was sure that his program would help bring not only Zambia, but the entire African continent into weightlessness. But the dream of the “African Queen” came true only after a few decades. In 1995, astronaut Bernard Harris became the first African American to walk in outer space. And the real holder of the passport of one of the African countries was in orbit in 2002. South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth has become the second space tourist. He spent eight days on the space station and paid $ 20 million for this entertainment.

As for Nkoloso, in the 1980s he tried to build a political career, ran for the post of the capital’s mayor of Lusaka, but was defeated. In order to support his associate, the President of the Round appointed Nkoloso the head of the African Liberation Center, which provides support to independence fighters from other African countries – Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique.

Edward Nkoloso died in 1989 and was buried as a national hero.

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