ECUADOR: FLYING HIGH WITH CORREA

Overwhelming Change: “Nothing Can Stop Us Now!”

My eyes filled with tears the first time I saw the video of NEE-01 PEGASO – Ecuador’s first space satellite – playing the Ecuadorian National Anthem in space. The images of the Earth from 900 km above gained a new profound meaning as the notes struck a melancholic chord in me, taking me back to the early years of elementary school, when we’d stand in line every Monday morning, singing along to that fantastic tune booming behind the poles where flags waved.

But it wasn’t necessarily the memories that moved me, particularly because back then I didn’t notice any of that. It was an overwhelming realization that the mess of a country I left behind almost 15 years ago to never look back has advanced in ways I never thought possible.

Since President Rafael Correa was first elected in 2006, the nation has taken great strides forward, most notably reclaiming political stability in a country that had seen 10 presidents thrown out in explosive popular revolts in less than a decade. The rates of reduction of poverty (one of the best in the region) has also been a major cornerstone of the so-called Christian Socialism the government has identified itself with. But that was expected…at least by me. The government is doing precisely what its mandate is, and needs no more accolades than knowing it has the support of an overwhelming majority of the nation’s population (If I recall correctly, Correa just won the election with over 65% of the votes). That’s not to say that it’s perfect, but its mandate is not to be perfect; it is to pull a nation out of the seams of hell.

So when I saw the video of the satellite carrying that tri-colour flag through space, the magnitude of the transformation that the country has undergone was simply overwhelming. That, I had not expected. I was completely moved with pride. Pride of having been born in a country that, after all it went through – after being recognized internationally only for its corrupt leaders and indigent levels of poverty – had finally been blessed with a leader that had vision.

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The Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Civil Ecuatoriana (EXA)) is the “first space agency in the history of Ecuador,” and was founded in 2007 with the aid of the State through the Ecuadorian Air Force, according to its website. It is planned for 10 years and will see three ambitious phases implemented, including the first Ecuadorian astronaut in space, the first landing on the moon and the first satellite, the latter of which has been achieved.

Ronnie Nader is leading the program, and is Ecuador’s first astronaut, receiving his training in 2007 in the Russian Federation “on the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center…designed to train a scientist to perform research during short term suborbital space flight,” reads the website.

The EXA joined the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) in 2008 – “the world’s leading space advocacy body with 246 members…across 62 countries,” according to the IAF website. It also joined the Guinness World Record book for the “youngest human being ever to fly in microgravity, the RIM-G, a system allowing almost any person to fly micro-gravity without being sick, opening the door for thousands of Ecuadorians to the marvels of 0-(gravity) and to a new set of research opportunities.”

NEE-01 PEGASO, the satellite, which was launched from China on April 26, since Ecuador does not have a launching station, is tiny (1.2kg, 10x10x10cm), but was nevertheless able to transmit images and data from space for seven days, before it was hit by the debris of a Russian satellite on May 23.

It’s main mission is to study the environment in space in order to be able to build bigger and better satellites.

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The idea that kids I grew up with and new generations could watch images of space delivered by their very own satellite, right at home, is astounding. Of course, many of them may have to go to public libraries, or the homes of kids who can afford computers and internet…but the possibilities are slowly emerging.

Ecuador is no longer a nation characterized by rampant corruption and poverty. Though the West may continue to denigrate Ecuador’s government, suggesting that it is authoritarian and a dictatorship, just as it does with other nations in full Revolutionary Motion, such as Venezuela and Cuba, to name a couple only, the undeniable jumps forward that this tiny Andean nation has made in the last seven years, is simply awe-inspiring.

People in Ecuador are seeing something they have not in a long time: the splendour of possibilities, and the results of having a government with integrity and genuine aspirations of progress.

…It was knowing all of this, that brought tears of utter pride and joy to my eyes…

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