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Figures of Costa Rica: Franklin Chang-Díaz

The first Latin American astronaut selected to go into space, is a Costa Rican-born physicist. Franklin Ramón Chang-Díaz was born in a multicultural household in San José on April 5, 1950. He is one of

Franklin Chang-Díaz

The first Latin American astronaut selected to go into space, is a Costa Rican-born physicist. Franklin Ramón Chang-Díaz was born in a multicultural household in San José on April 5, 1950. He is one of six children of a Chinese father and a Costa Rican mother.

Without speaking English, he immigrated to the United States in 1967, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a Doctorate in applied plasma physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

During his research in the field of fusion technology and plasma-based rocket propulsion, he became a US citizen in 1977, that’s why he describes himself as a mix of different cultures.

Infinite immensity

He recalls that as a child in the midst of the space race, he dreamed of the possibilities of space exploration, after the first artificial satellite, “Sputnik 1”, was launched by the Soviet Union. He is a product of his time, after such an important event marked a milestone in the history of the world.

His dream came true a few decades later, after been selected in 1980 to participate in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut program. After a year, he became a NASA astronaut.

Chang-Díaz joined seven space shuttle missions between 1986 and 2002. He served as director of NASA’s Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory from 1993 until 2005, when he retired from the agency.

Life after NASA

His journey continues as the founder and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company, which is dedicated to the development of advanced plasma rocket propulsion technology. The company has been developing Chang’s idea, the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket, an electrical propulsion device for use in space.

One of its facilities located in Liberia, Costa Rica generated in 2006 its first plasma. His research started back in 1979, when he envisioned its use for future human misions to Mars, in order to become a multiplanetary species.

His project is expected to open the possibility of arriving to Mars in approximately 39 days, the biggest challenge is to ensure survival in the long-run.

In recognizion of his 25 year successful career as an astronaut, he was selected as a member of the NASA Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2012. Also, due to his career and scientific success, his native country has named him an Honor Citizen by the Legislative Assembly.

In the Children’s Museum in San José, there is an exhibit dedicated to his work, which includes a reproduction of his image on a robot. This museum allows young people to dream of new horizons, such as the universe.

Franklin Chang-Díaz

Beyond space

Chang’s leads the implementation of The XXI Century Estrategy, a master plan designed to transform Costa Rica into a developed country by 2050. He is also active in environmental protection and raising awareness about climate change.

For 2 and a half years he was a home manager at an experimental community residence to institutionalize chronic mental patients, and was also an instructor and counselor in a rehabilitation program for Hispanic drug addicts in Massachusetts.

Franklin Chang-Díaz is also a son, brother, husband and father of four women. He enjoys music, flying and diving.

Final promise

After 1,601 hours of space experience and 19 and a half hours on spacewalks, he belives that the harmony, silence and tranquility that the image of the Earth provides him from the window of his cabin, does not align to what humanity has become due to war and catastrophes, so it is our duty to change the fate of the world.

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Figures of Costa Rica‘ is a series of profiles of outstanding characters from the history of the country.

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mvillalobos@outlierlegal.com

Journalist and audiovisual producer with training in gender and human rights. She has work in Argentina and Costa Rica, and aims to make meaningful changes to the present and future of the world through her writing, documentaries and digital broadcasts.

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