I just returned from a trip that took slightly less than 48 hours, half of which was spent on buses, boats and planes. It involved flying to Tokyo, then crossing Japan to the south to reach the Tanegashima Space Center, and then retracing our route in reverse to get back to the Philippines.
All of that to witness the launching of Diwata-2, the Philippines’ third microsatellite into space.
A joint project involving the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the University of the Philippines, with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) and several Japanese universities, Diwata-2 marks another milestone in a Philippine space program that is fast moving forward, even if a bill to create a Philippine space agency is still in the
The three satellites — Diwata-1, Maya-1 (a nanosatellite smaller than the Diwata units) and the “youngest,” Diwata-2 — are now orbiting the planet several times a day, hundreds of kilometers above us, and sending voluminous digital images back to us for a multitude of uses: weather tracking, disaster mitigation, agricultural mapping, communications, national defense and many more.
The Diwata-2 launch was different, because this was the first time we could witness the actual deployment into space from a Jaxa H-IIA rocket. I have to say it was a different experience—everyone silent in the final minute of the countdown, and the silence continuing as the rocket soared into the skies with several new Japanese satellites, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) KhalifaSat and our own Diwata-2.
Diwata-2 and KhalifaSat were more oriented toward individual country agendas and national pride, while one of the Japanese satellites, GOSAT-2, had a more international scope.
Waiting for a flight back to Tokyo, several of us in the Filipino delegation were able to talk with three officials of the UAE program. The UAE government, working closely with Japan, has been pouring in massive support for their space program.
Besides production of microsatellites, they hope to field their first UAE astronaut by next year. Also in their space program is the exploration of Mars.
At the Tanegashima Space Center, we watched videos on the UAE program and were dazzled by their space center in Abu Dhabi. The video explained how the space program is meant to revive a golden age of Islamic science, from the eighth to the 14th centuries, which had included a strong astronomy component.
The fielding of an astronaut in 2019, explained Salem Humaid Al Marri, the assistant director general of Dubai’s space center, will be important more in terms of the educational impact among young people; it will be “a hundred times” more effective than just mass media, he said.
I thought of how we might inspire our own Filipino youth as well to look up to the heavens. Earlier this year, the DOST’s Advanced Science and Technology Institute sponsored an event that allowed a small group of high school students from UP and from Holy Angel University to interview Scott Tingle, an astronaut on the International Space Station, a research center up in outer space.
I’m hoping that, in the future, we can have astronauts from Japan or, who knows, from the UAE, visiting the Philippines to talk about their work, and about international space research in general. The Filipino delegation, which included people from the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo, joined a queue at the space center to pose with Takuya Onishi, a Japanese astronaut. I would think we need more of that kind of a celebrity, truly a “star” from outer space.
There’s a spirit of adventure in seafaring cultures like our own. It took curiosity, and courage, for our ancestors to wonder about what was beyond the horizon and to venture out into the seas to find out. Japan, too, is a maritime society, and I noticed how, like the Chinese, they have retained the word for “boat” to refer to aeronautics and space programs.
Airplanes are translated as boats in the skies, while for outer space, it’s boats in the heavens.
Part of our humanity is to dare to dream of boats in the skies and in the heavens. Our seafaring ancestors would have been thrilled to see how we can now send microsatellites, a different kind of celestial boat, up into the skies. The images that are sent back to us from these boats with eyes have allowed us to look back to earth and better understand our environment, and ourselves.
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