Thursday, May 2, 2013

Who will be the first real Filipino astronaut?

THE ACRONYM FOR the Axe Apollo Space Academy, which is AASA, pretty much spells out what the Filipino who “wins” this contest can expect from it.

“AASA,” which is Filipino for the verb “to expect,” is an apt acronym considering the questionable claims Unilever puts forward for this marketing gimmick. The Filipino who survives the voting and vetting process will do well to consider these realities:

  • “Aasa ka ba” (Do you expect) that you’re an astronaut in the accepted sense of that word? The answer is “No.”
  • “Aasa ka ba” that you’ll orbit the Earth? The answer is “No.”
  • “Aasa ka ba” that you’ll reach space? The answer is “Yes.” 
  • “Aasa ka ba” that history will remember you as the first Filipino astronaut? The answer is “No” because you were never one in the first place. 

Now before the geniuses at Unilever and fans of this gimmick go apoplectic at my apparently unpatriotic claims, I’d like to make one point perfectly clear.
Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space

I’m all for having a Filipino astronaut. One thousand percent in favor.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer published my story, “Who will be the first Filipino astronaut?” about the need for a Filipino astronaut over a decade ago. And this January, the Inquirer published my latest story about space, “Business at satellite speed.”

Between then and now, I’ve published a lot of stories about space, spaceflight and satellites in the Inquirer and in websites that deal with space.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: our first astronaut should be a Filipino citizen our race can be proud of. This national pride will stem from the exceptional achievements of this person.

In the traditional sense, an astronaut is almost superhuman.

Ed White, the first American
to walk in space.
From the start of human spaceflight in 1961 until the advent of private spaceflight in 2004, the word astronaut held godlike connotations. And with good reason.

These men and women were mature individuals with high intelligence, high physical capabilities, extensive experience or a combination of these qualities. They trained at becoming astronauts for months or years.

They were some of the best human material their nations had.

Astronauts made Americans proud to be Americans; Russians proud to be Russians; Malaysians proud to be Malaysians and Chinese proud to be Chinese.

Does anyone think a Filipino who simply pops into space for less than five minutes, and who receives about a week’s training before this “spaceflight” can be called an astronaut?
Yang Liwei, China's first yuhangyuan

Will this person make you proud to be a Filipino?

He will? Really?

And when someone asks you what space program launched the first Filipino astronaut into space, can you proudly reply, “He was sent into space by a men’s underarm deodorant!”

Will that make you proud to be Filipino?

The very thought of it makes me cringe.

Space is no place for “pa-pogian” winners of a text-voting contest who’ll be passengers aboard a “space plane” that hasn’t even made its first spaceflight as of this writing. The contest will make you a guinea pig, not an astronaut.

And the answers to the “aasa” questions at the beginning of my story:

  • You can’t be considered an astronaut in the accepted sense of that word because an astronaut is a professional space traveler trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft. The winners of this underarm marketing gimmick should be more properly identified as “space tourists.”
  • You won’t orbit the Earth. The untested space plane you’ll ride in will pop briefly into space at the apogee or highest point of its flight, and then quickly fall back to Earth.
  • You’ll probably be in space for less than five minutes so you won’t even complete one Earth orbit. It takes a Space Shuttle in low Earth orbit some 90 minutes to complete one Earth orbit. Space or outer space lies at an altitude of 100 kilometers or 62 miles above sea level. The deodorant space plane had better exceed this altitude or else goodbye bragging rights.
  • Yes, you’ll be in space for the reason stated above. You’d better have your camcorder or cellphone camera at the ready because that brief intrusion into outer space could be over before you have time to take video. Oh, I forgot. You can’t operate the small buttons on your camcorder and cellphone because you’ll be wearing bulky spacesuit gloves. Goodbye, Facebook post.

Do you honestly want to be remembered as the first Filipino “astronaut” in these laughable circumstances? It’s up to you.

But, hey, you won and beat a million other guys worldwide for the chance to ride into space. That’s a great achievement--but it doesn't make you an astronaut.

The first real Filipino astronaut should make us proud to be Filipinos.

Now, who will be the first real Filipino astronaut?


rodsky said...

FYI, a suborbit hop will still earn you astronaut wings. X-15 pilots in the 1950's and 1960's earned astronaut wings after their aircraft reached an altitude considered at the time to be "the edge of space". Also, Spaceship One pilot Mike Melville has the distinction to be the first commercial astronaut back in 2004, after his SS1 reached an altitude of 101 kilometers.

Art Villasanta said...

The U.S. is the only nation that implements this dubious practice first implemented after Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Giving an American astronaut wings for a brief sub-orbital flight was a Cold War tool to tell the world the U.S. wasn't falling behind Russia in the Space Race.