October 30, 1964, TIME magazine reported on the celebration of the independence of Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia), with its new president, Kenneth Kaunda.
But as jubilant crowds celebrated, a man complained that the festivities were interfering with his “space program”. Edward Makuka Nkoloso informed the journalist that his Zambian TIME “astronauts” beat both the US and the Soviet Union in the space race – by going to the moon and on Mars.
It was an unusual boast, to say the least. At the time, the population of Zambia had 3.6 million with only 1500 high school graduates born in Africa and less than 100 college graduates. Nkoloso himself was a teacher of elementary school science, and self-proclaimed head of the country (the unofficial) National Academy of Sciences, Space Research and philosophy.
But he had big dreams, namely, using a “firing system” inspired catapult to send an aluminum 10 x 6 and copper rocket containing ten Zambians and an African girl of 17 years (and his cat ) to Mars. He thought he could get them to the moon in 1965. All he needed $ 700 million UNESCO to finance the project.
In an editorial the newspaper said Nkoloso studying Mars for some time telescopes to his “secret headquarters” outside Lusaka, and announced that the planet was populated by primitive natives. (He graciously added that the missionaries would not force indigenous Martians to convert to Christianity.) In fact, he said, it could have achieved the conquest of March just a few days after the independence of Zambia had the UNESCO through financing. Oh, he also called for the holding of Russian and American spies trying to steal his “space secrets” – and her cats.
It’s hard not to love Nkoloso, based on what little we know of it today. Here are a primary school science teacher setting up its own national space program with a small group of students who had to roll downhill in an oil drum of 44 gallons in the context of Nkoloso plan to simulate sensation of rushing through space. zero gravity? He simulated by pivoting them from the end of a long rope, cut the rope when they reached then the culmination they went into free fall. He also taught them to walk on their hands, “the only human so could walk on the moon. ”
Naïve? Ignorant? Sure. Especially in light of its less dedicated volunteers: “They are not going to focus on the space flight, there is too much to make love when they should study the Moon,” he complained. Indeed, astronaut girl vaunted Matha, became pregnant and her parents took her back to their village.
Astronauts could never Nkoloso Mars. Or the moon. Or even Lusaka. The Zambian government has carefully distanced himself from the project. Today, the US is the only country to have successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars, and yet has spearheaded a manned mission to the red planet. But while Nkoloso maybe a little crazy, he clearly pinpointed the future space travel would be a big deal. Zambia and wanted to be a part of it.