Siya Xuza: Mthata’s Own Rocket Scientist

So bright they’ve named a star after him.

This year at the University of the Free State graduation ceremony the guest of honour was so cool he has a corner of the Solar System named after him.

He began to dream at six years of age, when he saw a helicopter flying across his township. What Siyabulela Xuza witnessed that day ignited his curiosity and encouraged him to find out what makes things fly.

As the curious kid grew into a bright young man new horizons opened up before him; rockets, space, and the planets. He became a bit obsessed with Jupiter. Now he is a Harvard engineering graduate but his mother’s Mthatha kitchen was the place where it all started; it became his laboratory where he worked towards formulating the key recipe of his rocket fuel.

After 77 failures and over six months of building his rocket he was able to find the winning recipe. Xuza’s science project won gold at the National Science Expo. He was also given the Dr Derek Gray Memorial award for the most prestigious project in South Africa. He was later entered into the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair in the US, competing against 52 countries and winning the gold medal. This achievement saw Nasa-affiliated Lincoln Laboratory, name a minor planet after him, which is now known as Siyaxuza, which is found in the main asteroid belt near Jupiter.

During his appearance at the 2014 April Graduations at the University of the Free State, the award winning engineer, encouraged the UFS graduates, never to give up on their dreams, to be persistent, and to believe in themselves:

“Do what you love and the world will love what you do… I did not achieve this because I am smart, but because I never give up”.

On winning the first place at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, he said:

“I realised that Africa, South Africa, is equally capable to complete head and shoulder against the world when it comes to innovation, the greatest minds, we are equally capable. Nothing is impossible.”

These days the darling of Nasa is the youngest member of the Africa 2.0 Energy Advisory Panel. The pan-African organisation comprises the continent’s brightest minds and is committed to seeking sustainable solutions to challenges faced by Africans.

In a March 2012 interview with US television network CBS, Xuza said that his current work is focusing on transforming homes into power plants “that capture the energy of the sun during the day and store some of it in fuel cells, for use at night”. It could allow Africans to charge mobile devices without using batteries or tapping into national grids.

The minor planet 23182 Siyaxuza circles the solar system in the main asteroid belt near Jupiter and takes 4.01 years to complete a single orbit. It was discovered in July 2000. And at this pedestrian pace Siyabulela Xuza’s stellar progress is bound to eclipse his very own star in the Solar System.