Thomas Machingaidze made history by becoming the first Zimbabwean astronaut trainee

From Harare to the Galaxy: Thomas Machingaidze breaks new ground

SIXTEEN-year-old Thomas Machingaidze (TM) made history last week when he became the first Zimbabwean to be accepted for a degree programme at the International Institute of Astronautical Sciences in Florida the United States where he will train as an astronaut. The St Georges student speaks to The Daily News (DN) about the groundbreaking achievement this week

(FG) What first sparked your interest in space exploration?

(TM) I think it was in 2018 when SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy for the first time. I was watching the event unfolding on YouTube in my bedroom just before midnight. As I was watching, something flipped a switch in my mind, I felt that the tides were shifting. This was the start of a defining period for what I aspired to be or should I say embark on. From that day I wanted to be a part of the experience in person.

(FG) Can you tell us more about Falcon Heavy

(TM ) Falcon Heavy is a partially reusable super heavy-lift launch vehicle that can carry cargo into Earth orbit, and beyond. It is designed, manufactured and launched by American aerospace company SpaceX. The rocket consists of a center core on which two Falcon 9 boosters are attached, and a second stage on top of the center core. It has the second highest payload capacity of any currently operational launch vehicle behind NASA’s Space Launch System, and the fourth-highest capacity of any rocket to reach orbit, trailing behind the SLS, Energia and the Saturn V. SpaceX conducted Falcon Heavy’s maiden launch on 6 February 2018

(FG) Apart from this launch, did you have any role models or mentors who influenced this dream of becoming an astronaut?

(TM) A big inspiration for me was Elon Musk, seeing a South African go out into the world and start one of the biggest space companies, made me think it was possible for me to go out there one day and explore the stars.

(FG) What is your academic proficiency that led you to this opportunity?

(TM) I have tried to exert myself as much as possible academically throughout high school, mainly with a focus on computer science. In terms of my most recent academic achievements, having started early I am concluding my A level computer science this May.  I am in A level now and will be seating for Maths, Physics and Chemistry. 

(FG) What specific degree program will you be enrolling in at the International Institute of Astronautical Sciences (IIAS)?

(TM) As of now I’ve just concluded my introductory course AST 101. And from here I have a selection of a wide variety of courses that focus on various aspects of astronaut training. Going forward, I can pick and choose which ones I will do until I complete the program.

(FG) What kind of training will you receive during the program to prepare you for a career as an astronaut?

(TM) The institute does an amazing job at providing realistic astronaut training, with realistic mission simulators, actual aerospace grade spacesuits, parabolic zero-g flights, and underwater microgravity work. Just to name a few. All are actual training that astronauts partake in, done at a smaller scale. On top of that the institute provides me with a network of trailblazers in the aerospace industry.

(FG) What are your long-term goals after completing the program at IIAS?

(TM) I hope to take what I have learnt from all the people I have met and the experiences I have had, come back home and share it, then take steps forward into becoming a full fledged astronaut.

 (FG) How do you hope to inspire future generations in Zimbabwe to pursue careers in science and space exploration?

(TM) I hope to inspire them that it is possible. Going out there and pushing the boundaries of what you believe is possible is scary. But if I’m to tell any of my fellow youth anything, it is that you should stand loud and proud, of yourself and your country. We as Zimbabweans are a very capable and intelligent people. With passion and hardwork, we have what it takes to conquer the world.

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