San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Two young Ticos prepare to go to NASA space camp

Tico high school seniors Mariano Ramírez from the British School of Costa Rica and Carolina Pérez from the Alajuela Scientific High School will depart later this month to Houston, Texas where they will spend two weeks learning from scientists and astronauts at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The students are the 2014 recipients of the Franklin Chang Díaz Scholarship. The scholarship allows them to participate from July 27 to Aug. 11 at NASA’s Space School program in the United States. They’ll be joined by students from 22 other countries.

Ramírez and Pérez, both 16, were chosen among thousands of students from across the country. The scholarship tested essay-writing skills and English language proficiency. Aspirants were interviewed by various experts.

“As soon we were informed that we were selected, they started sending us lots of homework on physics, chemistry, math, and we were also asked to review and analyze several NASA missions,” Ramírez said.

Visiting the space center fulfills a dream for the pair. But they were also thrilled by the chance to meet Chang in person. The Tico astronaut and NASA Hall of Famer personally delivered the scholarships to them Thursday.

At the space camp students will work in groups to develop a plan for a mission to Mars.

“Each group will be in charge of solving one of the mission components like the scientific plan, the engineering, the logistics, [and] the budget,” Chang explained.

The former astronaut noted that Ramírez and Pérez will be the only representatives from Central America taking part in the program.

“We recently saw a great Costa Rica performance at the World Cup, so I hope our representatives also will do the same in the field of science,” Chang told the students during the ceremony held at the National Center for High Technology in San José, whose scientific facilities are named after the Tico astronaut and physicist.

Costa Rica is the only Central American country eligible to participate in the program that promotes vocations within the aerospace industry for international students. Ramírez will share his room with a German student, and Pérez’s roommate is from Ireland.

The space camp schedule includes a cultural show in which students will showcase folk music and dances. They also are required to prepare a local recipe to share with the other students. The Ticos said they have been practicing the dance and for the recipe they will prepare a “Cajeta de Coco,” a coconut dessert.

The scholarships are sponsored by the Asociación Estrategia Siglo XXI (a local foundation chaired by Chang), the Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center, United Airlines and BAC San José financial group.

Contact L. Arias at

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