Meet ‘The Afronauts’: An Introduction to Zambia’s Forgotten 1960s Space Program

“Broadly speaking, the ‘Space Race’ of the 1950s and 60s involved two major players, the United States and the Soviet Union. But there were also minor players: take, for instance, the Zambian Space Program, founded and administered by just one man. A Time magazine article published in November 1964 — when the Republic of Zambia was one week old — described Edward Mukuka Nkoloso as a ‘grade-school science teacher and the director of Zambia’s National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy.’ Nkoloso had a plan ‘to beat the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the moon. Already Nkoloso is training twelve Zambian astronauts, including a 16-year-old girl, by spinning them around a tree in an oil drum and teaching them to walk on their hands, the only way humans can walk on the moon.’ Nkoloso and his Quixotic space program seem to have drawn as much attention as the subject of the article, Zambia’s first president Kenneth David Kaunda. Namwali Serpell tells Nkoloso’s story in a piece for The New Yorker: not just the conception and failure of his entry into the Space Race (‘the program suffered from a lack of funds,’ Serpell writes, ‘for which Nkoloso blamed those imperialist neocolonialists who were, he insisted, scared of Zambia’s space knowledge‘), but also his background as ‘a freedom fighter in Kaunda’s United National Independence Party.’ … Whatever Nkoloso’s purposes, the Zambian Space Program has attracted new attention in the years since documentary footage of its facilities and training procedures found its way to Youtube. This fascinatingly eccentric chapter in the history of man’s heavenward aspirations has become the subject of short documentaries like the one from SideNote at the top of the post, as well as the subject of artworks like the short film Afronauts above. Nkoloso died more than 30 years ago, but he now lives on as an icon of Afrofuturism, a movement (previously featured here on Open Culture) at what Serpell calls ‘the nexus of black art and technoculture.’ …”
Open Culture (Video)
W – Edward Makuka Nkoloso
The Zambian Space Programme (Video)
YouTube: AFRONAUTS | short film

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Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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