1ST FILIPINO ASTRONAUT CHINO ROQUE AND WHAT HE DREADS IN OUTER SPACE

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(Chino Roque, 2nd from left, on the set of Bandila with, L-R, Julius Babao, Karen Davila and Boy Abunda.  Photo credit: @iamkarendavila on Instagram)

I spoke with soon-to-be astronaut Chino Roque a few minutes before his guesting on Bandila’s Ikaw Na! segment and asked him if he’s nervous (I was referring to the space mission) and he said he’s more nervous about fumbling his answers and lines during his live TV news interview.  If I were in his space suit, I’d be more concerned about reentering the earth’s orbit.  Indeed Chino is charming, not in an out-of-this-world manner, but in a down to earth sort of way. 

Obviously, Chino has not yet been bitten by the celebrity bug.  Between now and his space launch over a year from now, he will have to focus on training for this endeavor.  I asked him if he watched Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s space blockbuster flick “Gravity” and he said yes.  What happened in that disaster movie is highly possible, Chino said.    

He and 23 other astronauts from different countries, selected from a competition, will train intensively at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  They will each get a chance to board a 2-seater reusable space shuttle with a trained pilot, but they will not just be passive passengers because, as Chino says, they also have to learn “which buttons to push.”  They also need to prepare for the physical rigors of space flight.

Veteran astronauts have lectured to them and they were told that one of the hardest things to do in space is going (as in doing your toilet business).  Imagine doing it in zero gravity (they better have good aim because you don’t want stuff floating around in an enclosed space).  Another challenge is reentry into the earth’s orbit because the pressure shocks the body and causes muscle atrophy.

Our talk was cut short when the live newscast started.  Chino sat with Boy Abunda for the interview and carried himself well despite the nerves.  Boy asked him if he has a girlfriend and Chino admitted he’s courting someone.  He was asked, given the choice to take a showbiz personality to space, who would that be?  He paused, was obviously at a loss for words, then finally said he really had not thought about it.  Evidently, hindi pa siya showbiz (and hopefully he’ll stay that way).

Boy asked a different question.  “If you saw the face of God when you fly to space, what would you tell Him?”  Chino answered that he wants to be able to give back as much as he could from that experience.  He says he will tell God, “I am down on both knees even if it is zero gravity.”  It’s been said that being in space is an encounter with God.  We have the right man for the job.

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