TWO intrepid men will soon get a chance to go where no Filipino has gone before - outer space.
“The Final Frontier” will soon be a reality for Pinoys after two men from a field of over 28,000 applicants topped the AXE Apollo National Challenge at the Bonifacio Global City on Saturday.
The AXE Apollo Space Academy (AASA) Philippines presented the two Filipino astronaut hopefuls, Mario Mendoza Jr. and Evan Ray Datuin, at the end of a seven-month search that saw the final 400 hopefuls subjected to a battery of tests of their physical attributes, mental endurance, and emotional state.
Mendoza is a First Lieutenant in the Philippine Air Force, from Taytay, Rizal. The 24-year old pilot, whose family hails from Batangas, said he trained for the event by joining as many sports tournaments he could, from tugs-of-war competitions to running races.
Datuin, meanwhile, is a self-confessed “tambay” whose life revolves around sports. The 31-year-old from Dasmarinas, Cavite, said he prepared for the grueling one-day event by “playing basketball and chess” and pushing his usual routine “a little bit further."
Around 4,000 of the most qualified applicants took an online test to determine their intellectual prowess. The top 400 advanced to the next phase - a rigorous test in a military-inspired obstacle course at the Bonifacio Global City starting at 4 a.m where the candidates had to do timed runs, crawl through tunnels, climb walls, slide along muddy trails and traverse zip-lines.
For the final hurdle, the 50 applicants with the best times (who happened to be all male) were required to stand for more than two hours on wooden pegs underneath the noonday sun where they were told to perform a series of challenges. Applicants who lose their balance and fall resulted in instant elimination.
Both men agreed the last part of the challenge was the most difficult, especially the mental part of not wanting to quit.
“It means a lot. It opens a lot of opportunities for me to inspire a lot of people, especially small kids which is very fulfilling - anything is possible if you work hard for it and get guidance from above,” Mendoza said.
For Datuin, getting selected was a “a dream come true” and a chance to represent his country: “Para sa Filipino people, it’s a challenge for me to do my best para ma-showcase na puede tayo internationally.”
The two winners will be joined by a third candidate who be picked via an electronic raffle promo.
The trio will fly to the US this December to go through astronaut training at Space Camp in Orlando, Florida, where at least one of them is assured of a chance to fly to space.
The winning candidates will be a part of over a hundred selectees from other countries who will be sent 103 kilometers or a sub-orbital flight above the Earth.
“It’s been over seven months since we started this nationwide search for the Pinoy astronaut … I think it’s really starting to sink in that pretty soon we will be sending one of these people to space,” said AXE Philippines brand manager Gem Laforteza.
Mendoza, who had planned to apply for astronaut training years before but found out it wasn’t readily open to Filipino citizens, said he is proud with the chance to bring honor to his country.
“This is a sense of national pride. This is actually one of my reasons in joining: Kung may isang Filipino going to space, why not from the Air Force?” he said.