Spaced-Out South African!

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When I heard him talk on the news for the first time, I knew...

Mike Melvill, the 63-year old guy who successfully piloted the very first privately-financed aircraft into space in a historic mission, is a South African!

Formerly from Durban where his sister still resides, Mike, who is also the very first civilian astronaut, and his wife (also South African) now live close to the Mojave Desert in California.

But what makes the story even more remarkable is that Mike never finished high school.

Back then though, it wasn't unusual for many South African children to leave school at age sixteen in favour of working and helping to support their families.

Always fascinated with flying, Melvill apparently met up with Burt Rutan, the spacecraft's inventor and designer, when he bought an aircraft kit from him.

According to Melvill's wife Sally, when he had finished putting the aircraft together, Rutan was so impressed with the result that he invited the Melvills to work for him at his aerospace company, Scaled Composites, where Melvill became a self-taught engineer. Sally worked in human resources.

The SpaceShipOne project was launched there in 1996.

After his flight (during which he also released M&Ms from a bag to watch them float) and the media frenzy, and after he was awarded astronaut wings, Melville celebrated in a typical South African style: with a braai (barbeque).

During an appearance on last night's Tonight Show with Rutan, Melvill was so sweet and told host Jay Leno that he was experiencing many firsts this week, as his trip to the Tonight Show was also the first time he had ever taken a ride in a limo.

Good for him! I sincerely hope that this shows the FAA that just because a guy reaches a certain age, it doesn't mean he can't fly commercially anymore.

Melvill is the second South African to make it to the Final Frontier. Mark Shuttleworth, an entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, became the second space tourist (billionaire Dennis Tito was the first in 2001) and the first African in space when he spent several days at the International Space Station with Russian Cosmonauts in 2002, when he was just 28-years old.

6 Comments

Maggie said:

Despite what Jon Stewart was saying last night on The Daily Show - something to the effect of "hunh. The designer of the totally untested, prototype spaceship didn't go with him on the flight? Go figure...", I gotta say that I am completely impressed with
a) The guy who flew the totally untested, prototype spaceship and
b) The guy who designed the totallly untested, prototype spaceship THAT WORKED!!

Personally, I'm terrified of the idea of going into space for more than a short jaunt (not the Stephen King "The Jaunt" short story, either). I like scuba diving, but only when I can swim to the surface in an emergency. If something goes wrong in space, you are f. u. c. k. e. d.

Period.

Stacy said:

I just have to say THAT TOTALLY ROCKS!! I saw him on the news in a press confrence, and he was like, "I wasn't that scared going up, but coming down, I started to think, WHAT AM I DOING??"

And honestly, I didn't notice any sort of accent at all.

redsaid said:

Thanks Maggie and Stacy! I was starting to think that people were getting annoyed with me whenever I bragged about the accomplishments of other South Africans, because nobody commented on the post for the longest time! (Or about Retief Goosen winning the US Open.)

You know, for the longest time, due to Apartheid, South Africans were banned from competing in all sorts of international events (you name it, from Miss Universe to the Olympic Games). So seeing my fellow countrymen and -women excelling on the world stage still makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

But - and I didn't make this clear when I posted about it - I don't find the story remarkable ONLY because he is South African. The fact that he was a self-taught engineer and that he had this dream of flying and managed to do it all AND become the first civilian astronaut without even finishing high school... that takes some doing! His brother-in-law told the South African media that Mike has an amazing mind, that he has this ability to see things and understand how it works.

I don't know... a story like that just gives me hope. I mean, I have so much (stupid, I know) angst about turning thirty in a few month's time, and the fact that he made a seemingly impossible dream come true at 63, well after the age the FAA forces pilots to retire... it's amazing. And the appeal just transcends all nationalities, because every person has a dream, no matter how deeply it's buried within.

Anyway, see? Now I'm just getting all corny and stuff.

P.S. Stacy, I'm sad to think that my accent will be entirely lost on you, ha ha, 'cause that's one of the only reasons why I stayed in the USA! Naah, I'm just kidding. Like I said, I could tell immediately that he is South African. The boy makes fun of me, because I tend to "sniff" out other South Africans almost wherever I go.

Zinke said:

Wow, I didn't know he was 63!
That's amazing! I like that! I want to accomplish something like that when I'm that age! =)

Cherryflava said:

Thanks for the birthday wishes. Thirty kicks ass..you've got everything to look forward to.

On the subject of Mike...listened to a radio interview with him on CapeTalk yesterday morning. It was probably the most interesting thing 've ever listened to. Remarkable guy. And yes...he's still got that Durban accent, mix with the American drawl. At the end of the conversation he said that even though he's been living in the US for 35 years, he's still very proudly South African and misses home.

This guy is a legend of note...well done to him...he makes all South African's very proud.

By the way, he although the failed matric at Hilton, he still says that South African education far outstrip that found in the US.

Jeanne said:

That's so awesome! Isn't it mad that Mark Shuttleworth becomes the SA posterboy but save for your post, I would never have heard of this guy?!?! I love stories like this - just to show the rest of the world that we are not some obscure banana republic, but a first rate country full of talented people. OK, let me rephrase that - not only to show the rest of the world, but also to remind South Africans living abroad that we are a fab nation (because they largely seem to be afflicted with a mental block against seeing anything good coming out of South Africa...).

I also sniff out that accent everywhere... saaaad, I know!! You can actually recognise the intonation before you can make out any words! Living in London has taught me though that some New Zealanders sound remarkably like they come from Durban ("I caught a fush for supper") ;-)

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
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comments
  • Jeanne : That's so awesome! Isn't it mad that Mark Shuttleworth becomes the SA posterboy but save for your p... [go]
  • Cherryflava : Thanks for the birthday wishes. Thirty kicks ass..you've got everything to look forward to. On the... [go]
  • Zinke : Wow, I didn't know he was 63! That's amazing! I like that! I want to accomplish something like th... [go]
  • redsaid : Thanks Maggie and Stacy! I was starting to think that people were getting annoyed with me whenever I... [go]
  • Stacy : I just have to say THAT TOTALLY ROCKS!! I saw him on the news in a press confrence, and he was like,... [go]
  • Maggie : Despite what Jon Stewart was saying last night on The Daily Show - something to the effect of "hunh.... [go]
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