Days until the election: 179
Many people associate space exploration and space science almost exclusively with NASA, but space science is neither inherently government oriented nor inherently American.
Indeed, early visions of space exploration began largely with private rocket clubs. Werner von Braun, whose professional resume includes working on both the Nazi’s military rocketry program and NASA’s Saturn V rocket (which eventually reached the Moon), started as an amateur rocket buff in just such a club, the Verein für Raumschiffahr.
And, as many people will have noticed, space programs are, to some extent, in the process of migrating back into private hands. Scaled Composites won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 after successfully launching its SpaceShipOne sub-orbital vehicle (video below) and now we have its follow up, the Google Lunar X-Prize. Several space tourists have already visited the International Space Station and Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic is preparing to offer commercial spaceflight. Interplanetary space exploration is studied and encouraged by organizations such as the Mars Society, which operates the Mars Desert Research Station to help prepare for a human presence on Mars.
And even government space programs, while once dominated by the United States, have proliferated so that NASA is now joined by — and in some instances surpassed by — such organizations as the Russian Federal Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the China National Space Administration.
In this context it shouldn’t be surprising that countries that most of us don’t usually associate with space science have their own agencies, such as the Canadian Space Agency and the Indian Space Research Organisation.
And as of 2010, the Agencia Espacial Mexicana [English link here], the Mexican Space Agency, was authorized by the Mexican congress (although the agency was proposed as long ago as 2005). The law authorizing the agency can be found here.
The agency’s goals don’t explicitly include its own launches, but rather are tailored to keeping Mexico’s hand in on important issues in the renewed age of space exploration that appears to be in the offing. The agency will help to ensure that Mexico has access to information derived from space programs, benefits from the technology invented for or discovered during such programs, and shares in the economic wealth created by space-related projects.
Its stated goals are:
- To select technological alternatives for solving specific issues in our country.
- To develop own troubleshooting methodology for solving these specific issues.
- To disseminate information and technology obtained in all space science fields and other related areas that might be of interest to the Mexican Community.
- To reach a consensus regarding negotiations, agreements and international treaties in matters related to space activities.
- To coordinate the scientific research of space matters.
- To raise awareness about the importance that scientific development, possession and usage of the knowledge and technological development related to space research, has for our national economy, education, culture and community life in general.
- To coordinate the academic exchange between the different scientific and technological research organisations.
- To develop protocols for exchanging scientific and technological research and for increasing cooperation with other space agencies.
- To involve in the project Mexican companies with technological resources and capacity, so that they provide equipment, materials, spare parts and servicing for the Mexican Space Agency’s own projects, or for those of other agencies with which we might have exchange and collaboration protocols.
- The adaptation of the country’s productive sector to participate and to become competitive in the goods and market services relating to space matters.
The idea of a Mexican space agency may inspire jokes from the guys at South Park, but of course the space sciences have deep roots in Mexico. In addition to not predicting the end of the world in 2012, the Aztec were known for their advanced astronomical observations leading to a complex calendar.
In modern space history, Mexico was also an early-adopter of the opportunities offered by NASA’s space shuttle program. The first Mexican astronaut, Rodolfo Neri Vela, flew aboard the shuttle almost thirty years ago in 1985. An interview with him in Spanish appears below. (A complete list of Hispanic astronauts appears here.)
You can see an extended profile of Hernandez in the video below. You can also see a short interview with him about the origins of his interest in space here. The second interview is conducted by Maria Hinojosa, the awesome host of WGBH’s One-on-One and of NPR’s never-miss-an-episode podcast Latino USA.
According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, it appeared in mid-2010 that the much-sought-after headquarters of the agency would be built in Quintana Roo.
In January 2011, however, it was announced that a human resources forum in relation to the agency would be held in Puerto Vallarta and the issue of the location of the agency’s head officer appeared to remain unresolved as that was to be a key topic at the forum:
The presenters at the forums to define Mexico Space Agency’s Charter are jockeying for position to advance their agendas and locations into Mexico’s Space Agency Policies. One of the decisions expected from these forums are the location of Mexico’s Space Agency sites. The anticipated economic benefits to the chosen locations are significant because the Space Agency will attract highly-skilled, high-paying jobs. Mexico’s Space Agency is giving priority to locations with universities, private aerospace industry and research centers nearby.
The states identified as top contenders include Nuevo Leon, Queretaro, Puebla and Jalisco. Milenio.com reported that Jalisco’s Governor, Emilio Gonzalez Marquez, offered to contribute MX$100-million to attract one of the space center sites to Puerto Vallarta’s home state.
Wherever the agency may eventually make a home, its creation is welcome. The exploration of space, the investigation of scientific issues related to it, and the exploitation of its resources is far too important an issue to be left entirely to the political forces that dominated the world in the 20th century: the U.S., Europe, Russia, and China. The more that emerging powers gain a foothold in space, the better the outcome will be for mankind as a whole and the better for a future Mexico.