Story & photos by Stephanie Tumampos / Special to the BusinessMirror
Dreaming of reaching the stars, Markus Ballesteros, 8, Grade 3 pupil of the Diliman Preparatory School, has started his small step toward a big leap—to become the first Filipino astronaut.
The small steps he took was under a summer program called the Junior Astronaut Academy (JAA), a five-day workshop to teach children about astronomy and the basic knowledge on how to become an astronaut. It was conducted by trained astronomy educators of Regulus Spacetech Inc.
According to its program, Dr. Raquel Lopido, director and chief operation officer of Regulus, “It [JAA] is designed for kids to nurture their interest in space, something that the older generation always wanted.”
At the age of 5 or 6, “[children’s] interest in space peaks and an avenue for exploration may further this interest,” Lopido told the BusinessMirror in an interview.
Ballesteros has set his academic road straight. “I want to study physics,” he told the BusinessMirror in a separate interview.
When asked why, he said, “My mom told me to study physics because that’s what astronauts need to study.”
Studying physics and concentrating on astronomy and space science is a course only a few Filipino have taken.
So far, there are only three Filipino astrophysicists in the country. One of them, Dr. Rogel Mari Sese, has been pushing for the establishment of the Philippine Space Agency. In line with this, Lopido said the JAA is a support project for the planned agency.
“We wanted to inspire children as early as the primary level to pursue STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] courses and, eventually, become the future work force of the agency,” she told the BusinessMirror. “It may seem farfetched but educating the kids and making them learn the benefits of space takes time to accomplish.”
In a developing country that has big, bold ambitions, this program is slowly honing the knowledge of the younger generation to know the benefits of a space agency and industry.
According to Lopido, it is best to start this journey in building the foundation of our future space program as early as now.
Many Filipinos think that the only thing most astrophysicists and astronomers do is to do research, there is more than meets the eye.
Astronomy has developed technologies that have improved the daily lives of many. The use of global positioning system on cellular phones and the telecommunication systems was made possible through the space satellites orbiting Earth.
The development of magnetic resonance imaging scanners in the health industry was a product of astronomy and its ambition to scan stars. The digital single-lense reflex camera sensors were developed mainly because scientists wanted to capture light in the darkest parts of the universe, and eventually, produce the most exhilarating photos of galaxies.
The intent of JAA’s program is not purely academic as most people would think.
“The JAA is also a [space] appreciation course not just for kids but also for the whole family,” Lopido said. “Among our objectives is for people to understand that space concepts and space technology are not just valuable knowledge [for academic purposes] but are also fun and exciting to learn.”
The various activities of the JAA program involve exercise, basics of microgravity, rocket propulsion and launching.
Ballesteros said, “We learn about rockets, outer space and we even exercise because an astronaut should be strong, fit and healthy.”
Besides space concepts, the children are taught the value of communication and team work, which is very important in space missions, like those in rocket launching, where all astronauts must be in sync to avoid failure.
Also, communication and good space relations are key in most missions like the astronauts who are in the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is a collaboration of 16 countries that includes the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, Brazil and the eleven member-nations of the European Space Agency.
Lopido is hoping the JAA program would go nationwide for a wider reach. “We want to reach those talented kids and we want them to want to work for the Philippine Space Agency.”
She dreams that someday their graduates will be among the first Filipino astronauts—and that might include Ballesteros, who just earned his last badge and has completed the JAA program.
Image credits: Stephanie Tumampos