San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Franklin Chang to Open Lab in Liberia in July

Those who thought Guanacaste’s clientele would forever remain tourists should think again, and think big, because in the next few years, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) could be doing some shopping in the northwestern province.

In July, Liberia, Guanacaste’s capital, will become home to a state-of-the-art laboratory built by retired NASA astronaut Franklin Chang and run by his brother, engineer Ronald Chang.

Inauguration of the lab, dedicated to developing rocket propulsion technology, is scheduled for July 15, according to Franklin Chang.

After retiring from NASA, where he worked for approximately 25 years, Chang founded Ad Astra Rocket Company in July 2005, aiming to developing plasma rocket propulsion mechanisms, the U.S.-Costa Rican scientist said recently during a conference at LincolnSchool in Moravia, northeast of San José.

Ad Astra, Latin for “to the stars,” has two branches, Ad Astra U.S.A., in Houston, and sister company Ad Astra Costa Rica, which will operate the lab at the La Flor campus of EarthUniversity, an internationally prestigious tropical agricultural school based in the Caribbean-slope town of Guápiles.

Ronald Chang, Ad Astra executive director, told The Tico Times that after the lab is inaugurated, its team of nine Costa Rican scientists will get to work on plasma development. According to former astronaut Chang, plasma is any superheated gas, such as nitrogen and hydrogen, and can be considered a fourth state of matter.

To create it, a gas must be heated with radiation to millions of degrees and contained by magnetic fields.

By late 2007, with two plasma motors to be constructed with assistance from the Guanacaste lab, Franklin Chang plans to have developed a rocket propelled by plasma, he explained at the March 23 conference.

Chang envisioned this propulsion mechanism, called the variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMR) back in 1979.

With the VASIMR system, a rocket could reach Mars in four months, while with current technology a round trip could take more than two years.

However, it could be years before anybody gets to Mars – though Chang believes the person who will be first to walk on the red planet is living already and going to school somewhere in the world.

At LincolnSchool, where Chang spoke before an audience of students to celebrate the inauguration of an Interscholastic Technology Club, he explained the feeling of

being in space.

“It’s an extraordinary sensation, and I recommend it to you. In space you are floating and you can fly.You can stand up on the ceiling or on a wall,” he said, adding that in space, the turnaround time between night and day is 45 minutes.

Ronald Chang explained that in order to get their plasma system up in space like Franklin, Ad Astra will need $160 million.

Right now, the company works with Costa Rican and Swiss “angel donors,” people who believe in an idea and put their money on it, despite the risk of failure, according to Ronald Chang.

For more information on Ad Astra or VASIMR, visit


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