NASA astronauts celebrate mission anniversary in Costa Rica

March 7, 2016

Four of the seven crew members of NASA’s STS-61C mission, including Tico astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz, met Friday in Costa Rica to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their mission on board space shuttle Columbia.

Chang joined mission commander Robert Gibson, Senator William Nelson (D-Florida) and current NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

The group began the day with a news conference in which they talked about their experiences traveling into space, in Chang’s case, for the first time.

Astronauts highlighted Chang’s contribution to the mission and to NASA. Gibson referred to Chang as “the real star of our group.”

Senator Nelson followed and said “Chang was Costa Rica’s biggest contribution to NASA.” He noted that the Tico physicist and engineer not only traveled to space seven times but also launched a successful entrepreneurial career following his departure from the agency.

Nelson also praised Chang’s research and work in the development of the VASIMR plasma engine, likely to be the technology propelling the first manned mission to Mars.

The astronauts’ agenda also included a visit to the Legislative Assembly where they urged lawmakers to pass legislation to boost Costa Rica’s participation in aerospace.

Robert Gibson told lawmakers that in order to get Costa Rica into the space technology field, the country needs to enforce legislation aimed at encouraging students to get into scientific and engineering careers.

In the afternoon, astronauts and their families shared a lunch with President Luis Guillermo Solís and U.S. Ambassador Stafford Fitzgerald Haney at Casa Presidencial.

Chang told attendants that hosting the United Nations workshop on human space technology next week is a step closer for Costa Rica to get into the space business. He noted that, for any country, developing technology does not require a big territory, oil, or rich minerals, but mostly educated human resources.

“Costa Rica can play in the space game just like ‘La Sele’ played at Brazil’s World Cup. We have the potential to shine and that’s what I want for Costa Rica,” Chang said.

The group then moved to the house of former President Luis Alberto Monge (1982-1986). The visit was intended to fulfill an old promise made to Monge while he was in office 30 years ago.

Columbia crewmembers in 1986 held a live conversation from space with Monge and pledged to visit him in Costa Rica. That visit was cancelled due to the tragedy of Space Shuttle Challenger that ocurred just a few weeks after Columbia’s mission.

Chang has said in the past that the ill-fated Challenger mission could have been his first, but NASA changed the crews.

UN workshop

Astronauts are in Costa Rica to participate in the International Astronauts Forum, one of the main events of the III Workshop on Human Space Technology, sponsored by the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), which the country will host from Mar. 7-11.

The event will gather some 200 experts, astronauts, space agency officials and representatives of the space industry.

The Astronauts Forum will take place Wednesday, Mar. 9 from 7-9 p.m. at the National Stadium at La Sabana Park, west of the capital San José.

Organizers expect some 8,000 people to attend the free event, as it is the only event open to the general public.

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