Hello and welcome to the far reaches of the unusual and unexpected, the Weird Tales That Happens To Be True.
The year is 1964, Zambia have just started celebrating their independence and their very first, very own president, Kenneth Kaunda. Not everyone in the crowd is smiling though. Edward Makuka Nkoloso spoke up, telling the entire crowd (and the visiting journalists from Time Magazine) to keep quiet, as they were disrupting the Zambian Space Program.
At his own initiative, Nkoloso had entered Zambia into the ongoing Space Race, with the intention to beat both USA and Russia to the moon and later to put a man on Mars. By that time, Zambia had less than 100 college graduates, and Nkoloso was not one of them. He was a grade-school science teacher and the self-appointed director of the unofficial National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy.
Nkoloso had it all figured out. All he needed was $700 million from UNESCO and he’d build the launcher that would take 10 Zambian men and a 17-year-old girl (and her cat) to Mars, passing by the moon on the way. The launcher was a gigantic catapult and the “pod” was a 10x6m aluminium tube with no machinery or furniture.
The Zambian scientist claimed he could’ve conquered the natives of Mars a mere week after the independence of Zambia, if UNESCO had granted him the funding. He had observed Mars for months at his secret laboratory and found that Mars was inhabited by primitive humans. He promised not to convert them to Christianity, should they chose to keep their own religion.
The space program met an ungraceful end shortly after Nkoloso had finished training the 11 people and the feline to walk on their hands, the only way they could walk on the moon. He called for the arrest of American and Russian “spies”, who were trying to steal his space secrets and by this point, the Zambian government distanced themselves from the science teacher.
As odd as it may sound, Nkoloso did a lot right. He didn’t know everything needed to do a successful space mission, but he knew that space was the next big thing. He wanted his country to be part of the space race and did everything he could to make that happen. He had several training regiments that showed he knew some things about space. A prime example is how he had the trainees swing on ropes as he cut the rope when they reached the peak, to simulate zero gravity, or how he had them ride inside an oil barrel downhill to simulate the extreme pressure they’d endure during launch.
All he really needed was the funding, a following and fellow scientists and engineers who could fill in the gap, and Zambia might have been the first nation to put a human (or cat) on Mars.
It is better to aim for the stars and miss than to aim at the ground and hit.