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Celebrated 'Afronaut' Mandla Maseko dies in bike crash before achieving historic dream as first black African in space

Mandla Maseko beat more than a million others to a place on a US space programme. Credit: AP

Proudly posing in aviator shades and a bright orange jumpsuit, Mandla Maseko cut a relaxed cool image as he contemplated becoming the first black African to travel into space.

But five years after the photoshoot, his dream of making history has tragically ended after a bike crash ended his life aged just 30.

Mandla Maseko wearing the bright orange Apollo Space Academy jumpsuit. Credit: AP

The South African had earned the nickname 'Afronaut' after he beat more than a million other entrants to win one of 23 coveted seats on a US space academy flight into space in 2013.

Mr Maseko enjoyed a week at Florida's Kennedy Space Academy in Florida - including air combat and G-force training - and met the first men to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Mandla Maseko's breakthrough success saw him celebrated in South Africa. Credit: AP

But the 103km (64 mile) flight into space, originally planned for 2015, was delayed and still to be rescheduled at the time of his death.

The son of a school cleaner and car tool maker was born in a township in Soshanguve, near Pretoria, the AFP news agency reported.

Mandla Maseko's Apollo Space Academy jumpsuit is seen with a trophy at his family home at Soshanguve in Pretoria. Credit: AP

His unlikely route to astronaut training saw him celebrated in South Africa, where his death sparked messages of grief and tributes.

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His family confirmed on Sunday he had died in a motorbike accident on Saturday.

Mandla Maseko demonstrating how a spacecraft blasts off outside his family home. Credit: AP