BETHLEHEM Students walked into their technology class to a surprise when they were greeted by astronaut Marcos Pontes.
On Thursday, Dec. 17, students in Kevin Shannon’s introductory engineering class at Bethlehem Central High School met Pontes, Brazil’s first and only astronaut sent into space, and a member of the country’s first class of astronauts.
“I came from a poor family and used to watch the airplanes fly over my head and dream about someday being up there,” said Pontes in an introduction outlining his long road to space. Alongside his descriptions of life in space and his assertion that more engineers are needed to enter the field came a powerful message to “follow your dreams.”
“I’ve been met with a lot of challenges, but with persistence and big dreams you can do anything,” said a smiling Pontes.
Pontes has two masters degrees and a PhD. He once learned Russian in three months in order to spend the next five months learning how to control the Russian space technology to finally be sent into orbit in 2006.
He became part of Brazil’s first class of astronauts in 1998, and was as one of 32 chosen out over 10,000 applications received that year, in a process similar to that of NASA’s millions of applications which will surely be received this year with the organization calling for new astronauts after 10 years without any new ones.
With his dream of space travel now realized, Pontes’ most important mission now is to educate youth, emphasizing the dedication it takes to realize a dream such as his.
Through his work with Integra Optics engineering, Pontes made it a point to speak to children when travelling for work. As well, through his Marcus Pontes Children’s Foundation (“Fundacao Astronauta Marcos Pontes” in Portuguese) he works to promote the same skills of perseverance with free engineering activities to “teach children about technology and empower their future” in his native country.
With his contract with Brazil ended this year, Pontes hopes to travel into space yet again through other countries.