Yes. The answer to your question is yes, both Uganda and Zambia once had space programs.
Of course it was Idi Amin’s gig. Of Uganda’s countless head of states before the hat guy, who do you think could have the balls to simply say “fuck you earth’s atmosphere, I am become space!”? Of course it’s the Uncrowned Last King of Scotland, that man whose last name means ‘sister’ and was acquired from his habit of sneaking his ‘sisters’ into his military barracks when he was a junior officer. Amin was not only your usual boring kill-everyone-who-disagrees-with-me dictator. He did do that, but he also makes anyone trying to be powerful and eccentric look like an amateur.
Movies have been made about the man. Hollywood makes movies of you if you are either too awesome to ignore, or bring in such new madness that the old madness looks sane. “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular” also wanted to own the bragging rights in space exploration.
Amin’s idea got past the blueprint stage and got as far as car tyres. It was smoke, of course it was. The tyres? For an obstacle course designed to help the astronauts survive in space. At least Amin’s idea of it. Sadly, the idea was soon overshadowed by his other madness and its audacity lost in how well he managed to outdo himself. Say what you will about the man, but he dared to dream.
Of all his dreams and crazy endeavors though, only this one made it to Time Magazine’s 100 Worst Ideas of the Century. Such takes effort.
Eight years before Amin, there was a Zambian man with a somewhat similar dream. To go to the sky, far far into the red planet, and beat those so-called superpowers to it. He had seen the space inhabitants via his telescopes, he said, and the only way man could walk on the moon was on his hands. Nothing could stop him from going though. Well, almost nothing. Like a pregnancy.
Edward Makuka Nkoloso joined the Space Race in style. The school science teacher established the Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy as Zambia’s answer to NASA. The first plan? To send twelve astronauts and ten cats to the Red Planet. He even wrote about it in an editorial where he said that his makeshift facility was only a temporary site pending funding from UNESCO.
At his awesome facility, the would-be astronauts were rolled down a hill in a 44-gallon oil drum. According to the man, that would help train the astronauts the feeling of weightlessness.
Just watch the video of this guy and tell me he is not oozing of awesomeness.
See the floating in an open jerrican, the swings, it looks like a kindergarten playing field for young adults, no? That woman seated on the far right in the opening scene who doesn’t look like she’s trying?
Nkoloso did not let his lack of facilities and the fact that the guys interviewing him were only using him to fit a stereotype stop him. Mh. Mh. He stares right into the camera and says he is going to take people and felines to space, and the space inhabitants need not worry because his missionary has express instructions not to force Christianity on anyone. So, what could stop a man with such clear goals, except of course, gravity? If you said a pregnancy, here’s a cookie. Matha Mwambwa, the 17-year old space girl and would-be first African woman in a rocket, got pregnant and had to leave the program. It was she, a missionary and two specially trained cats who were to make that first trip outside earth.
But why cats, Nkoloso? What did you view on the surface of the Red Planet that informed your decision to send a scout party that includes cats? Are there alien mice, perhaps? “They won’t concentrate on space flight; there’s too much love-making when they should be studying the moon,” Nkoloso said before he closed down the academy. Nothing more is known about how the cats were rehabilitated back to earth standards of weight and no alien mice. Nkoloso disappeared too, as did the dream of beating the superpowers to Mars.
Uganda’s and Zambia’s Space Programs are laughable by today’s standards because they point to a deeper sense of innocence. Yet the audacity to pursue such dreams despite the clear challenges in technical expertise and funding are impressive, if nothing else. For Idi Amin, the space program was merely one in a series of outrageous projects he would pursue before he was ousted. The man claimed to have witnessed UFOs over Uganda, and given the wider context of his actions, the space program looks less outrageous than his frequent massacres.
What of Nkoloso? Pure balls, that’s what. Only an overly ballsy person can stare into a camera and outline his goals so eloquently without giving an ounce of anything what the world thinks of him.
One Story is Good,
till Another is told.
Last modified: February 12, 2020