Mandla, 30, from a township outside Pretoria, beat a million other entrants from 75 countries to win a trip to space, as one of a group of 23 who will take part in an hour-long, 103-kilometer (64-mile) suborbital flight aboard the Lynx Mark II craft to the edge of space.
The young part-time DJ and candidate officer with the South African air force, who was also affectionately known as “spaceboy,” would have been the first black African person in space. His family announced the tragic news via a statement on social media.
#RIPMandlaMaseko Afronaut extraordinaire. What a tragic loss of a promising SA personality who’d already soared so high and had been on track to reach much higher levels of influence in the world of science and astronomy. Condolences to the Maseko family. Akwehlanga Lungehlanga
He underwent a week of skydiving, air combat and G-force training at the Kennedy Space Academy in Florida in preparation for the flight, where he also met Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon.
He had originally been scheduled to fly in 2015 but an official announcement was never made about when the journey to space would take place. His untimely death means that the historic first will instead be achieved by another ‘Afronaut’.