[OPINION] The first Pinoy cosmonaut?

FORMER President Donald Trump has been blamed for sowing distrust in mainstream media by tagging them as purveyors of “fake news.” But the harsh fact is that the press, including the leading dailies in Manila, have been perfectly capable of gaining notoriety on their own, without the help of the Hyperbolero AKA the Lying King.

While going through my old files of Ang Panahon, a weekly newspaper that I edited and published in the San Francisco Bay Area at the start of the millennium, I unearthed an issue, dated June 3-9, 2004, with the banner headline, Doubts cast on “First Filipino Cosmonaut.”

The Ang Panahon news item, which I had written, was a follow-up on recent sensational reports in the leading Manila dailies, Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer, about the “first Cosmonaut of Filipino descent,” a 32-year-old commercial pilot named Capt. Irene Mora.

That story was a stark reminder to every self-respecting journalist that press releases should be regarded with healthy skepticism and should always be rechecked and double-checked. Apparently, the editors of the two venerable dailies had not done their due diligence.

The Philippine Star had filed the following report on May 9, 2004:

“The first Filipina space cadet is now in Russia and she is preparing to rocket to the International Space Station orbiting earth in July.

“Capt. Irene Mora, a commercial pilot by profession, arrived in Russia last week for the rigorous training she must undergo to be part of the crew that will spend a week on the International Space Station and journey to Mars.

“Mora flies on this new space mission as part of the Russian contingent in July.”

This was fantastic news and a reason for every Pinoy to feel very proud. Months earlier, in December 2003, the Inquirer had reported:

“Mora is now studying Russian as she will be heading for the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City next year under a training program offered by Space Adventures of Arlington, Virginia.”

According to the Inquirer story, Mora had “applied with the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) three years ago, but her application remained pending after NASA grounded its astronaut training program in the wake of the Feb. 1, 2003 Columbia space shuttle tragedy.”

It was for this reason, the story continued, that Mora “looked for an alternative which is Russia’s cosmonaut program.”

Russia and the U.S. had been eyeing the Red Planet since the late 1990s and I considered it fantastic news that a Pinay was actually preparing for a Russian manned journey to Mars.

But why hadn’t Capt. Mora been sent for and honored by then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?  After all, becoming a cosmonaut was a big deal, but a Pinay training for a trip to Mars with the Russians was a super-super Big Deal!

It certainly was a major achievement for this to happen during Arroyo’s watch! Why then wasn’t it the biggest, hottest, most sensational news in the Philippines (it wouldn’t be until 2007 that Manny Pacquiao would start becoming a legend by clobbering Marco Antonio Barrera)?

There was also something about the name, Space Adventures, that sounded too much like a Disneyland or Star Wars amusement facility than a serious scientific interplanetary undertaking.

With journalistic diligence and healthy skepticism, I decided to check out Space Adventures. I learned that it was located in a place called Star City some 30 kilometers from Moscow.

I dialed an 800 number listed under Star City and stumbled on a company called Incredible Adventures that offered ­­the same kind of “space training” provided by Space Adventures.

According to a sales representative, for $2,950 a space enthusiast could enjoy a full day at Star City viewing simulators and donning a spacesuit. For more money, a “session of weightlessness” in a centrifuge could be arranged.

“For $13,000, we can also arrange a flight in a MIG 25 up to 80,000 to 85,000 feet,” the sales rep said enthusiastically.

It made me wonder if this was the “space training” that our “first Filipino cosmonaut” was planning to undergo.

I tried to contact Capt. Mora to ask her about this, but was unable to, until press time. I also checked all available sources but failed to get any news about a Russian manned space flight to Mars being planned any time soon.

At any rate, last February 2021, the U.S. succeeded in landing a spacecraft on Mars – but it was unmanned. Russia has also made attempts to land a vehicle on the Red Planet, but the recent NASA feat has been the most fruitful so far.

And as far as a manned flight to Mars is concerned, that remains on the wish list of Russia and the U.S. It didn’t happen in 2004 as Philippine Star and Inquirer had reported and it won’t happen this year or even in 2022.

What about Capt. Mora’s “training to become a cosmonaut” and one of the first humans – and the first Pinay – on Mars? We haven’t heard from her ever since we wrote about her intended spectacular adventure 17 years ago.

We can only wish her good luck and hope that her fantasies will someday come true.

And what about the editors of Philippine Star and Inquirer? We can only hope that they have learned to tell the difference between fact and fantasy.

A little healthy skepticism and diligent fact-checking helps.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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gregmacabenta@hotmail.com

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