Philippine Space Agency
Finally, we have a Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA), with President Duterte signing a law on Aug. 8 creating that agency. Some P2 billion in initial funds will be allocated, and the Clark Special Economic Zone has been identified as the site for the agency, with an area of 30 hectares.
PhilSA will be directly under the Office of the President, managed by a Philippine Space Council with the president as chair and with two vice chairs: the secretary of science and technology and the secretary of national defense. Other government agencies will be represented in the council.
The goal set for PhilSA is to make the country “space-capable” and “space-faring” by 2022. I know that the “space-faring” angle seems ambitious, but we shouldn’t dismiss that possibility too quickly, considering that there is so much international cooperation now for space research, and there has been one Malaysian astronaut, Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor Al Masrie, who joined an international team at the International Space Station in 2007. Sheik Muszaphar is not just an astronaut but also an orthopedic surgeon… and a part-time model. Yes, he has celebrity status in Malaysia.
A Wikipedia entry reports 72 government space agencies worldwide, with six (the China National Space Administration, Indian Space Research Organization, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration [US], the European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency) having full launch capabilities.
China has been the most ambitious with its space programs, with its own spacecraft and space stations. The Chinese have 11 astronauts (9 men and 2 women) who have been sent into space. India was in the news recently with its moon lander, which unfortunately slammed into the moon rather than achieving a soft landing.
In Southeast Asia, our neighbors have been ahead of us in establishing space agencies. Indonesia’s National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan in Indonesian), for example, dates back to 1963. Lapan was more oriented toward military use, developing rockets for the Indonesian air force.
Southeast Asian space agencies are oriented more toward the use of satellites, again with Indonesia launching its Palapa satellite as early as 1976. The National University of Singapore’s Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP) and Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency (GISTDA) are also mainly involved in processing data from satellites.
Reading about CRISP and GISTDA got me thinking about our own University of the Philippines (UP), which is playing a major role in developing the country’s space program. It was UP Diliman’s engineering and science faculty and graduate students, working together with Japanese universities and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, that launched the satellites Diwata-1, Diwata-2 and Maya-1, with more in the pipeline. These satellites have been sending vital information important for weather forecasting, agriculture, land use planning, disaster risk management and defense.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has, in the last nine years, spent some P7.5 billion for space research, including laboratories and a recently inaugurated ULyS3ES (pronounced Ulysses), which means University Laboratory for Small Satellites and Space Engineering Systems. Calling it a laboratory is being modest, with ULyS3ES consisting of two multi-storied buildings.
At the inauguration, I reminded the audience that our space program needs to harness all disciplines, including the arts. I was actually quite happy our scientists thought up satellite names like Diwata and Maya and now ULyS3ES and, wait, there’s also STAMINA, for Space Technology and Applications Mastery, Innovation and Advancement (STAMINA4Space), which is training scientists from all over the country for our future in space. The names reflect creativity, and also the technical expertise of Joel Marciano Jr., a UP professor currently seconded to the DOST, and his team.
We might want to look to China for the way it taps into culture to make its space programs resonate with its citizens. Its lunar exploration program, for example, has a logo that takes off from the Chinese character for the moon. It is a stylized lunar crescent with two footprints in the center. That lunar program is also called Chang-e’s Project (Chang e gongcheng), after the folkloric moon goddess Chang-e.
Folklore and the arts aside, we should be looking at the politics behind space programs. All space programs have a strong element of national pride. In the 1960s, the US and the Soviet Union fought out their Cold War trying to outdo each other in space exploration. Now, it’s the Chinese and the Indians. National pride aside, give it to the Chinese, practical business people, who are looking to the moon for rare metals.
Happy Moon Festival again.
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