Students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) successfully sent the late former president Nelson Mandela to space – in the form of a photograph. In December 2018, the picture was launched from Stellenbosch and has finally been retrieved in Ceres, more than 200 kilometers from where it first ascended.

Titled Madiba Ascended, the space-picture project forms part of a virtual film by Zimbabwean-born filmmaker Munashe Nash Makado, who is studying towards an Honours degree in English Literature at UCT.

“The film involved sending Nelson Mandela’s picture to space and using the metaphor of ascension to communicate the magnitude of Tata Mandela’s legacy,” Makado told News24. 

“I have always been interested in astronomy. When I was in varsity, I was part of the astronomy club. But the idea for this specific project came from different places. First of all, Nelson Mandela would have turned 100 last year. So I wanted to do something creative to celebrate his life and communicate the magnitude of his legacy to future generations,” he added. 

Using a weather helium balloon, a type of high-altitude balloon used for transporting instruments into the Earth’s upper atmosphere to send back information, and a 360-degree virtual reality camera, the students managed to send Nelson Mandela’s picture to space.

“Because it’s a 360-degree virtual reality film, within the film we are going to embed pictures and videos of Nelson Mandela’s moments in his life. In the background, you will be seeing this beautiful video of the 360-degree camera ascending to space,” Makodo said to News24.

360-degree virtual reality is an audiovisual simulation of an altered, augmented or substituted environment that surrounds the viewer, allowing them to look around them in all directions just as in real life.

“What was exciting about the film then, was that two people watching it would not have the same viewing experience. Each person could look in whatever direction they chose,” said Makado.

A GPS device was used to track the package and a power bank was attached to guarantee the camera’s battery did not die during its trip in space. According to Makado, calculations were made on the internet to predict the flight path and to get an idea of where the photograph would land.

The package landed 80km north of Ceres in the Western Cape. “It went up to 80 000 feet, which is higher than most airplanes would usually go. You could see in the pictures the darkness of space,” Makado said.

After seeing on the GPS that the picture had finally landed, the group of students drove to Ceres to locate it, although this proved challenging.

“The first day we couldn’t find it. We went back for the second day and we also couldn’t find it and we just had to wait for about 30 days until the parachute sent its exact location back to us. Because the area that it landed was an obscure area so the parachute was moved by the wind,” Makado explained to News24.

While they were searching for the package, the students met a farmer in the area who ended up helping them trace the picture along with its package. The farmer arranged for it to be sent to the students.

Makado’s film, Madiba Ascended is expected to come out in a month’s time, according to the student. Screenings will be held in Cape Town, Johannesburg and at the Berlinale film festival in Berlin.

The release date for the film will be announced on Makado’s Facebook page.

Pictures: Facebook/The Cape Journo

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