MANILA, Philippines—Three Filipinos will be whisked away to another world, with the lucky one to be booked a flight to outer space—literally.
Out for a simulated space mission are: Hotel and Restaurant Management graduate Evan Rey Datuin, 24; freelance graphic artist Ramil Montalvo Santos, 29; and Philippine Air Force lieutenant Mario Mendoza Jr., 31. They are off to the United States Space Camp in Florida in December.
The three are the Philippine representatives to the Axe Apollo Space Academy global contest, which will send 23 people from all over the world on a pioneer suborbital space flight. The hundreds of representatives from more than 60 countries will have to pass a weeklong training in Orlando, Florida.
Mendoza and Datuin were the overall champions of a national contest launched by Axe Philippines earlier this year, which was dubbed the search for the first Filipino astronaut.
The contest began with online voting, which saw 28,020 astronaut hopefuls from the Philippines. It was the fourth highest number of national contestants in the world, said Axe Philippines brand manager Gem Laforteza.
Of that number, only 4,085 were short-listed to take an IQ test, and only 400 passed to qualify for the military-style obstacle race at Bonifacio Global City last August.
Mendoza and Datuin secured their places by literally being the last men standing in a final test of endurance where they had to stand on a peg for hours.
Santos did not make the cut, but thanked his lucky stars for being selected in the Hyperdrive Promo raffle last September, which secured for him the third slot to Space Camp.
Santos was introduced to the media on Oct. 5, when he and Datuin met up with visiting Brazilian aerospace doctor Thais Russomano and Filipino scientist Custer Deocaris for tips on how to survive Space Academy.
Laforteza described the contest as an opportunity “to help a nation like ours to dream big.”
“A lot of people are actually interested in space science, but they feel they can’t achieve that dream. When they saw we would really send them to space, it ignited those childhood dreams,” Laforteza said.
This was true for the Cavite-based Datuin, whose father was an airport engineer. “I also dreamed of becoming a pilot to know what’s out there and outside the planet,” he said.
“I’m now certain this was God’s plan. Whatever your dream, as long as you do whatever it takes, give it your best and believe in God, it will be given to you,” Datuin said.
The coming Space Camp trip has also reawakened childhood flights of fancy for Quezon City resident Santos. “I wanted to be the first Filipino astronaut. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved flying paper planes. I’ve often wondered: What if the paper plane reaches space?”
“Of course, it’s better if it’s me instead of the plane,” Santos said.
Santos said even if he weren’t chosen, “I am already blessed and proud to represent the country” in the contest.
Rizal province-born Mendoza shared the same national pride and dream of “carrying the flag of the Philippines” into space.
Mendoza saw the opportunity as a step higher: “I’m already in the Air Force and I’ve accomplished so many things at this point in my life. I realized: ‘What’s next? What’s the next big dream?’ So I thought: Why not go into space? Why not be an astronaut?”
Suborbital space flight
The top “graduates” of the Axe Apollo Space Academy will be among the first civilians to be launched in the two-seater XCOR Lynx Mark II spacecraft, under travel firm Space Expedition Corp., in 2014.
The suborbital space flight will breach the outer space boundary of 100 kilometers above sea level, Deocaris said. With the high speed and altitude, the passengers will experience microgravity, or weightlessness, for a few minutes, he added.
For most people, even that simple-sounding flight may remain just a dream, with tickets currently priced around $100,000 each, said Deocaris.
But the balikbayan molecular biologist and biotechnologist is hopeful campaigns like the contest can popularize space tourism and commercial suborbital flights and make these more accessible in the future.
Deocaris is also hopeful the campaign can help boost a movement to have a Philippine space agency and a local aerospace dome with space flight simulators.
Pushing space science
“We have very few scientists in the Philippines. If we can bring greater consciousness of space science, then we’ll have children interested in the sciences and pursuing science careers,” Deocaris said.
“When the government sees the interest in space science, maybe they can put more money into it and push for legislation,” Deocaris added.
Deocaris had invited Russomano to the Philippines for a possible partnership regarding his research on the effects of microgravity on aging, and to discuss the pending local aerospace dome.
Russomano is the founder of the Microgravity Center in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the first space science educational facility in Latin America.
“We’re very happy to know that there are notable people like Dr. Deocaris and Dr. Russomano who are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. As we at Axe say: ‘Fortune favors the brave,’” Laforteza said.
Mendoza reminded the youth that the sky’s the limit for their ambitions: “As young as you are now, keep dreaming. I am probably at half of my life, and I’m still dreaming. Work on it. Keep believing in yourself. Harness your potentials. You can do it.”