(CNN Spanish) — There are a few days left before the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft takes off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and astronaut Frank Rubio is already able to imagine himself between the image of the small Earth and the blackness of the stars.
That’s how he told it in one interview for the US Army news service.in which he shared how he is preparing to become the first Salvadoran and next engineer aboard Expedition 68, part of NASA’s Artemis project, an initiative that seeks to return humans to the Moon by 2025, and, eventually make way for human exploration on Mars.
From El Salvador to outer space
Born in Los Angeles to Salvadoran parents, Rubio will be part of the next mission to the International Space Station (ISS) alongside Russians Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin. It is a joint effort between NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, and a dream for which he has prepared his whole life.
In a video presentation of the US agency, the 46-year-old astronaut relates that having been the son of a migrant teenager who raised him on her own taught him the value of self-improvement and effort: “I am the result of many sacrifices and great equipment”. His mother, Myrna Argueta, currently lives in El Salvador.
Now married to his wife Débora and father of four children, Rubio remembers how he joined the Army in 1998 in order to pay for his university studies. After graduating from the Military Academy, he earned an MD from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in 2010, after which he was an executive medical provider and flight surgeon at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.
He has an extensive military career, having flown more than 1,100 hours, including more than 600 combat hours during deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. For that, he obtained a certification as a helicopter pilot.
But in 2017 an impulse led him to take a step beyond his military career, trying to enter NASA to become an astronaut: Rubio was one of the 12 selected from no less than 18,000 applicants.
Since then, he has completed a two-year astronaut training program that has included major physical and academic challenges, from life support systems to handling electricity on the International Space Station, to physical training aboard aircraft that can fly at supersonic speeds like the Northrop T-38 Talon.
“The biggest challenge for many is the breadth of things we have to study,” Rubio told the Army site.
Now, Frank Rubio is facing the biggest challenge of his career. Not only because his trip to the International Space Station will be part of the broader Artemis program, which seeks to prepare the conditions for humans to return to the Moon and also visit Mars. But because it will also be his first trip to outer space, specifically, to the International Space Station.
The ISS works thanks to a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and the European Space Agency. This year, as a result of the war in Ukraine and the subsequent Western sanctions against Moscow, its activities and missions were about to be interrupted. Finally, in August of this year, NASA confirmed that Russia had committed to continue working on the ISS even after 2024.
In a live interview broadcast by NASA from Russia, where he is already preparing, Rubio assured that this mission represents the enormous efforts of teams from both parties. “I think it’s important, even in times of tension, that spaceflight and space exploration — two things that both agencies are extremely passionate about — remain a form of diplomacy and camaraderie where we find common ground.”
According to the NASA site, the three crew members will travel on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft and will begin a six-month mission as Station engineers.
Other scientific and technological research and experiments to be carried out on the ISS include space walks, research on microgravity and how it affects the human body, and experiments on the possibility of manufacturing human organs.
“Biological experiments interest me in particular because of my background,” Rubio said on the same NASA broadcast about his studies in medicine. “Being able to produce human organs would be phenomenal because of the possibilities it would give us to deal with some diseases here on Earth.”