Edward Makuka Nkoloso

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Edward Mukuka Nkoloso
Born1919 (1919), Northern Rhodesia
Died4 March 1989(1989-03-04) (aged 69–70)
Alma materUniversity of Zambia
OccupationDirector, national academy of science
Resistance member
AwardsJubilee Medal "Forty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" (1984)
Space career
Previous occupation
Resistance member, teacher

Edward Festus Mukuka Nkoloso (1919-1989) was a member of the Zambian resistance movement and the founder of the Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy.


Nkoloso was born Edward Festus Mukuka Nkoloso in 1919, in the northern part of Northern Rhodesia.[1] Some sources refer to him as "Edward Makuka Nkoloso".[2]

He was drafted into the Northern Rhodesian Regiment forces in World War II, ultimately serving as a sergeant in the signal corp.[1] After the war, he became translator for the Northern Rhodesian government. He was also a grade school teacher, and opened a new school, which was purportedly shut down by British authorities. He then joined the resistance movement.[3][4][5][6] He was arrested and imprisoned in 1956 and 1957.[3] Following his release, he was appointed as security official of United National Independence Party.[3][7] In 1960, he founded the Zambia National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy.[3][6][7][8][9] In 1964, he participated in the Constitutional Convention.[5]

Space program[edit]

From 1960 until sometime after 1969, this program sought to accomplish the launching of a rocket that would send one girl, 17-year-old Matha Mwambwa, and two cats to the Moon. There were also plans for a trip to Mars.[3] Nkoloso hoped to beat the United States and Soviet Union's respective space programs at the height of the Space Race.[2]

To train the astronauts, Nkoloso set up a makeshift facility on an abandoned farm 11 kilometres (7 mi) from Lusaka where the trainees would be rolled down a rough hill in a 200-litre (44 imp gal) oil drum.[3] This, according to Nkoloso, would train the men in the feeling of weightlessness in both space travel and re-entry.[6][8][9] In addition, they used a tire-swing to simulate weightlessness.[3][6][9]

Nkoloso stated goals of the program were to establish a Christian ministry to "primitive" Martians, and the hope of Zambia becoming the "controllers of the Seventh Heaven of Interstellar space". However, he reportedly instructed the missionary in the space program not to force Christianity onto the native Martian inhabitants.[1]

The rocket, named D-Kalu 1, was a 3-metre by 2-metre (10x6 ft) drum-shaped vessel.[3][10] Named after the first president, Kenneth David Kaunda, he claimed it was made of aluminium and copper, and space worthy. The planned launch date was on 24 October 1964, Independence Day, and would take place from the Independence Stadium,[8] but was purportedly denied permission due to being inappropriate.[3]

It is said that he then asked UNESCO for a grant of £7,000,000 in Zambian pounds to support his space program.[3] It is also said he requested $1.9 billion from "private foreign sources". However, the Ministry of Power, Transport and Communication is reported as stating those requests had not been made on the behalf of Zambia.[9][11]

The term "Afronauts", coined by Nkoloso, refers to the participants of this program.[3]

Interviewed in 2016, former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda said of the space program that "It wasn’t a real thing ... It was more for fun than anything else.”[1]


Nkoloso stated the program failed due to lack of funds, the pregnancy of astronaut Matha Mwambwa and her subsequently leaving the program to return to her parents, and problems with morale due to media attention.[3] The rocket was claimed to have been sabotaged "by foreign elements". The Zambian government distanced itself from Nkoloso's endeavour.[9][11]

A photograph book Afronauts commemorating the events was self-published by Cristina De Middel in 2012.[10] The short independent documentary film titled Afronauts directed by Nuotama Bodomo was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014.[12][13]

Later life[edit]

He unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Lusaka, Zambia, emphasising scientific advancement. He was appointed by President Kaunda to the Liberation Center,[14] a movement for regional freedom. He championed government support for witch doctors on at least one occasion. He claimed that they should have a place beside physicians, and that they are an antidote for Christianity which had hurt Africa's medical skills, but states that he did not practice witchcraft himself.[14] He retired in 1972.[7]

He received a law degree from the University of Zambia in 1983.[1] He was awarded the Russian Jubilee Medal "Forty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945".[3] He also served as president of the Ndola Ex-servicemen's Association and was made an honorary army colonel.[4] He died on 4 March 1989, and was buried with presidential honours.[3]

Popular culture[edit]

In 2014 Nkoloso was depicted in the film Nkoloso the Afronaut that was nominated at 2014 Uganda Film Festival.[15] He and Matha also appear as characters in Namwali Serpell's novel The Old Drift, published in 2019.


  1. ^ a b c d e Serpell, Namwali. "The Zambian "Afronaut" Who Wanted to Join the Space Race". New Yorker. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b Nkoloso, Edward Mukuka (c. 1965). "We're going to Mars! With a spacegirl, two cats and a missionary". Lusaka, Zambia. Archived from the original on 11 July 2007. Retrieved 13 December 2007. Lay summary (18 April 2004). {{cite news}}: Cite uses deprecated parameter |lay-date= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Kabinda Lemba (Producer) (9 September 2013). Mukuka Nkoloso the Afronaut (Television production). Lusaka, Zambia: CCTV News. Archived from the original on 10 January 2017. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  4. ^ a b Banda, Gabriel (6 November 2009). "Africa in the Great War". The Post Online. Lusaka, Zambia. Archived from the original on 20 December 2013.
  5. ^ a b Chimpinde, Kombe (15 April 2013). "New constitution leaves Barotse Agreement out". The Post Online. Lusaka, Zambia. Archived from the original on 20 December 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d "Zambia: Tomorrow the Moon". Time. 30 October 1964. Archived from the original on 11 November 2010.
  7. ^ a b c Macmillan, Hugh (2013). The Lusaka Years: The ANC in exile in Zambia, 1963 to 1994. Sunnyside, South Africa: Jacan Media. pp. 20–21, 98. ISBN 978-14314-0821-4.
  8. ^ a b c Zambian astronauts train for Moon trip – Interview with space academy director. Lusaka, Zambia. Reuters TV. 14 November 1964. Archived from the original on 5 July 2012. Alt URL
  9. ^ a b c d e Royle, Dennis Lee (18 August 1965). "Zambians Have Plan To Put African on Moon But Problems Mount Up". Gettysburg Times. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Associated Press. p. 6 – via NewspaperArchive.
  10. ^ a b De Middel, Christina (2012). "Afronauts". Archived from the original on 31 December 2013.
  11. ^ a b Stett, B; Kamuyuw, E N (November 1988). "Zambia: Tomorrow the Moon". Investigator.
  12. ^ "Afronauts". Sundance Film Festival. 2014. Archived from the original on 20 December 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
  13. ^ "Afronauts Trailer (Vimeo)". Sundance Film Festival / Vimeo. 2014. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
  14. ^ a b Whiting, Kenneth L (11 March 1970). "Support Your Witch Doctor, Zambian Says". The Courier News. Blytheville, Arkansas. Associated Press. p. 8 – via NewspaperArchive.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 April 2015. Retrieved 25 April 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Patrick Moore, (1972), Can you speak Venusian?: A guide to independent thinkers. David and Charles