With the launch of Space Shuttle Mission STS-119, a dream came true for a teacher named Joseph M. Acaba and for many who share his Puerto Rican heritage. Puerto Ricans have been involved with the successes of NASA since its inception, (many playing very important roles in its success on the ground) but on March 15th, 2009 a Puerto Rican takes these successes and aspirations to the place of their ultimate goal – Outer Space. With parents born on the island (Ralph and Elsie Acabá, from Hatillo, Puerto Rico), and he being born in Inglewood, California, Acaba is an American Astronaut Latinos the world over can identify with. On the NASA website Joseph recorded his message of continuing education and learning to students in both English and Spanish.
Puerto Ricans have contributed to a number of scientific and educational areas in NASA. A Mechanical Engineer in Aero-Space Technology by the name of Dr. Alfonso Eaton was the first Puerto Rican to work for NASA back in 1966. Since then, Puerto Ricans now hold key positions in the space exploration organization. Dr. Nitza Margarita Clintron is now the Chief of NASA’s Johnson Space Center Space Medicine and Health Care Systems Office, and Dr. Orlando Figueroa is Director of the Solar System Exploration Division and Mars Exploration.
Mars is the next goal in NASA’s future and Puerto Ricans will be there to help in this next step in man’s exploration of space. Currently a Puerto Rican scientist, Dr. Juan R. Cruz, is helping with that endeavor.
He helped design the parachutes that let the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity land safely on the surface of the red planet. Dr. Cruz was also involved with the Phoenix robotic space exploration craft, and he will be working on the future Crew Exploration Vehicle project – the one that may take humans to Mars.
Acaba is not the first Hispanic/Latino to fly in space. He follows a number of astronuats that share his heritage like Franklin Chang-Diaz (Costa Rica), Ellen Ochoa (California), and Carlos L. Noriega (Lima,Peru). Hispanic/Latinos are an intelligent, creative, and vibrant people and they will continue to make great contributions to the exploration of space. When Astronaut Joseph M. Acaba looks down at the small island of Puerto Rico from space he will know that he is not alone on his fantastic journey. He will have the good will, the prayers, and the dreams of Puerto Ricans – and all Latin Americans with him.
More information: http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/acaba-jm.html