However, there has only ever been one born and bred Mexican in space: Prof Rodolfo Neri Vela. After years of campaigning for it, he is thrilled that Mexico is finally getting its own space agency.
It was on November 26, 1985, that Neri Vela joined his crew on the STS-61-B Atlantis Space Shuttle. They launched from the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, USA, under the command of NASA. Their mission was to deploy three communications satellites, as well as conducting several experiments. These were to inform later missions and to advance our technology to further explore the solar system.
Neri Vela flew as a Payload Specialist. He had worked for the Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transportation, as its Head of the Department of Planning and Engineering of the Morelos Satellite Program. The MORELOS-B was one of the communications satellites that was deployed by this mission, hence Neri Vela getting his moment amongst the stars.
By the time he returned, on December 3, 1985, Neri Vela had orbited the Earth 108 times and clocked up 165 hours in space. He had travelled 2.4 million miles (3.8 million km) . Though not an astronaut, he had ungone rigorous training and had to pass a clearance program by NASA. The mission was declared a complete success.
Neri Vela was born, on February 19, 1952, in the city of Zumpango del Río, in Guerrero. He received his Bachelor's degree, in Mechanical and Electronic Engineering, University of Mexico. In 1975, he travelled to England, in order to complete his Masters, Doctoral and Postgraduate degrees, at the universities of Essex, then Birmingham. Several high profile jobs ensued, all in Mexico, before he was picked for the NASA mission.
"From space I see myself as one more person among the millions and millions who loved, live, and will live on Earth. Inevitably, this makes one think about our existence and the way in which we should live to enjoy, to share, our short lives as fully as possible."
Neri Vela's work didn't end with him landing back on Earth. In 1989, he moved briefly to Holland, where he took up a position within the European Space Agency. Here he was responsible for planning part of the International Space Station. A year later, his contract completed, he returned to Mexico to join the radio communications research group, at the Institute of Electrical Research. He was also inaugurated into the International Space Hall of Fame. Neri Vela is currently a Professor, in the Faculty of Engineering, at the University of Mexico.
Over the years, Neri Vela has campaigned tirelessly for Mexico to have its own space agency. Now that this is becoming a reality, he is right there at the forefront, having reviewed the draft proposal on behalf of the Mexican government.