Total Eclipse of the Sun

Today is a unique day and for that reason I’m not in the mood to discuss politics. Ok, I lied about the politics part. As you likely know, today there will be a total solar eclipse in parts of North America. As unique as this event seems to be from the news narratives, today’s solar eclipse is the second one I get to witness firsthand. On July 11, 1991, I had the privilege to witness a total solar eclipse from the perfect vantage point of Guadalajara. The news media is portraying today’s occurrence as a rare event, but like everything else, rare is a relative term. Solar eclipses happen about every 18 months somewhere in the world.

What makes today’s event rare is where it is happening, North America. Solar eclipses happen at the same place once every 300 to 400 years. And yet, today’s event marks the second time I get to witness one in North America. Much to the chagrin of some of you, yes, México, is in North America. In 1991, I got to see a total eclipse, today, I get to witness another total eclipse but only get to feel about 80% coverage. A rare event, nonetheless.

Those that know me well, know that I have always been intrigued by space, especially space travel and the yearning to witness the first proof of intelligent life outside of our planet. I wanted to be an astronaut from the moment I saw Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon via a grainy black-and-white television screen.

I soon realized that my country of birth, México, did not have the political will nor the economy to mounts its own space program and thus, as a child, I looked to see how I could accomplish my goal. It is during this search for an opportunity to accomplish my dream that I realized it would be impossible for me to realize my dream because a capricious line had been drawn on the map and I was born on the wrong side of it.

The debate about immigration usually centers on “doing it the right way.”

As a minor, I was educated, better than many, I was a licensed pilot and I spoke three languages somewhat fluently. I had U.S.-born siblings with U.S. citizenship. I knew then that to achieve my dream, I had to become a U.S. citizen, join the U.S. Air Force and educate myself to the highest level possible all before I turned 23, or 25 at the latest to even have a chance to fly into space. I had a better chance at winning the lottery. But dreams tend to make the impossible seem possible.

But I never got the opportunity. Even with U.S.-born siblings, I had no way to emigrate to the United States legally before my opportunity ran out. At the earliest, I had to wait twelve years before I had a shot at joining the U.S. Air Force. Much too late for the government to invest training on me and way too late to make it into space. U.S. immigration policy discourages dreamers like me.

I was willing to serve and that just wasn’t enough, even with the skills I had to offer. Now, if I had money, regardless of what I, or my family did to get it, the U.S. floodgates would have opened for me. But then I wouldn’t have the dream that I did and thus I wouldn’t have offered anything to the country. That is the sad state of the U.S. immigration system.

Some of you will jump at the notion that a merit based immigration policy would have served me well then. It would not have. Although I spoke English and at the time I was working on my bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, under the proposed law, I still would not have qualified because I still had not received my degree and a bachelor’s degree wouldn’t have been enough even then.

The problem is the constraints on time. I had to compete with hundreds and hundreds of other much better qualified pilots and engineers. To do that, I had to continue adding up my flight hours. Flying isn’t free. I also had to continue my education. Although the cost of higher education in México is close to free, I still had to eat and put a roof over my head. I couldn’t do all of that and still be young enough to compete for an astronaut’s slot.

In other words, a line on the map crushed the dream. I’ll never get to fly into space.

There will be a tendency by some of you to argue that the dream was crushed by the politics of México that did not allow it to launch a space program. A space program is an astronomical cost. Very few nations can maintain a space program, and even fewer a manned program. Today, the United States outsources its manned space program to Russia.

México put an astronaut into space in 1985. Rodolfo Neri Vela flew on board the space shuttle Atlantis as a payload specialist. Neri remains the only Mexican national to fly into space. Neri flew as part of a NASA arrangement that let a country’s national fly on the space shuttle mission that paid for payload space on that flight. México deployed the Morelos 2 satellite during that mission. It was the second communications satellite México deployed via the space shuttle program. Morelos 1 had been deployed earlier in 1985 via Space Shuttle Discovery.

Although my dream to fly into space is now dead, my yearning for space and its many wonders are still very much a part of me. Eclipses are simple natural events but the wonder of it all leaves me in awe. I hope you all get to enjoy the solar eclipse today, whether via the news media channels or whether you witness it firsthand in a 10, 20, 30, 40 or even 100% coverage area.

Tomorrow, we’ll get back to the sad state of affairs brought on by today’s politics.