January 24, 2011

Mexico in the Space Age

solar system
Photo: MPL 3D

Puerto Vallarta was, this weekend, revealed to be the location of the fourth forum for the creation of Mexico's Space Agency. Delegates will meet there, on January 28-29th, to discuss human resources. The technological requirements, for the agency's proposed projects, will be examined to determine the skills of future employees. All is going according to plan and Mexico is well and truly back in the Space Age.

AEXAA launch pad in the Yucatan, capable of sending rockets into space, might sound like the stuff of science fiction. But it is happening.

The Mexican Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Mexicana (AEXA)) was given the legal go ahead to form, last April, when the Senate okayed its foundation. The provision called for a series of conferences to iron out the administrative, scientific, technological and industrial fine detail. Those grand meetings have progressed right on schedule.

AEXA is the brainchild of José Luis Garcia and Fernando de la Peña. But the inspiration apparently came from a US astronaut, José Hernández. Five years ago, De la Peña created space-compatible borescope (device used to examine inaccessible objects), which was welcomed by NASA. He was installing it there, when he met Hernández.

José Hernández
José Hernández

Hernández was born and raised in Stockton, California, USA, though his ancestry is Mexican. He first went into space in 2009, when he was part of the crew delivering supplies to the International Space Station. During his ten years working for NASA, Hernández has also liaised between the US Congress and Senate on astronomical matters. He was President Barack Obama's frontman, standing before Congress to present a vision of commercial space travel and missions to Mars. Hernández is a highly respected NASA engineer and astronaut; and it was he who suggested to De la Peña that Mexico should develop its own space agency.

When De la Peña took him at his word, Hernández's support didn't end there. He has been instrumental in presenting the idea to the Mexican Congress and Senate, as well as sharing his vast expertise in creating a workable draft proposal. Garcia and De la Peña might have done all of the hard work, but Hernandez lent credibility to the cause.

AEXA
AEXA's Board of Governors at the launch conference

AEXA is now a reality. Its Board of Governors were appointed, on September 7th, 2010. Their role has been to oversee a series of fora, designed to create the infrastructure of the space agency. This month's Puerto Vallarta Forum is the penultimate one, before AEXA can take their plan back to the Senate for a mandate to form as a legal entity. Letters of support from other space agencies, across the globe, have been flooding in.

The study of the solar system isn't a new idea in Mexico. The Maya were once famously knowledgable about astronomy. However, AEXA intend to bring this learning right into the 21st century. The agency will create jobs, which will also serve to stem the tide of brain drain out of the country. It will be the center for technological advances, which will not only help the country, but also the international space community. It will stimulate the economy and, hopefully, open up new frontiers. Education and research are key to its proposed program. Yet it will also endeavour to became self-funding.

Lofty ambitions indeed, but right now, the stars are quite literally the limit.

Read more about the goals of AEXA on their website.

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