Thursday, June 20, 2024

What did AMLO and the head of NASA talk about?

In a bid to strengthen bilateral ties, high-ranking NASA officials Bill Nelson and Pamela Melroy visited Mexico this week. Their agenda included meetings with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, students and researchers.

Nelson, a Democratic senator from Florida who served from 2001 to 2019, has been the administrator of the United States Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) since May 2021. Melroy, a former astronaut who piloted Space Shuttle missions in 2000 and 2002, is now NASA’s deputy administrator.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson talks with AMLO
Discussions with the president focused on using space-based instruments to tackle bilateral environmental issues. (@SRE_mx/X)

The focus of NASA’s meetings in Mexico was collaboration on environmental issues. Nelson highlighted how space-based instruments can track deforestation, help prepare for natural disasters and monitor water resources, which are all crucial data for tackling climate change.

Nelson noted how operations in space can help protect natural features like the second-largest carbon sink in the world, located in southern Mexico. “One wants to maintain that forest, which absorbs carbon dioxide,” he said in a media round table held at the United States Embassy. “But the problem is that people are making the forest disappear. With instruments in space, we can see that people are setting fire to the forest.”

López Obrador expressed interest in using SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to bring high-speed internet to remote areas, a dream of his for Mexico’s population. Discussions also touched on medical research in space, particularly on cancer.

Arturo Reyes Sandoval, director of the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), announced the continuation of the Colmena project to develop nanosatellites and collaboration with NASA on the AzTechSat-2 project.

There’s also a joint initiative for an atmospheric observatory.

US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar speaks at an event with NASA administrators Bill Nelson and Pam Melroy in April 2024
Ambassador Ken Salazar hosted NASA administrators Bill Nelson and Pam Melroy at the United States Embassy along with Mexican officials, researchers and students. (@USAmbMex/X)

Some of the discussion during NASA’s visit to Mexico was about sending a future Mexican astronaut to the moon. Rodolfo Neri Vela, who went to space 39 years ago, was remembered; Neri, now 72, was aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis and helped place into orbit the Mexican satellite Morelos 2.

On the academic front, Nelson and Melroy indicated that NASA hopes not only to continue collaborating with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), but also to expand to other universities and research centers. A day before the Tuesday meeting with AMLO, the NASA officials spoke to an auditorium full of students and faculty from various Mexican universities.

In Tuesday’s meeting with the media, Melroy talked about how space research can help with the growing global problem of water scarcity. “I had a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alicia Bárcena, last year and she talked to me about the importance of water [issues] on the border, so NASA proactively let the government know that we created two studies to study water on the border.”

López Obrador also noted in a social media post on X that he pushed for engineer and science educator Katya Echazarreta to be included on another space mission. A Guadalajara native who moved to the U.S. as a kid, Echazarreta, 27, was a “citizen astronaut ambassador” on a commercial space flight in 2022, after which Mattel made a Barbie Role Model doll of her.

“It was an honor to meet with President López Obrador,” Nelson wrote in a post on X. “There is a new and bright future ahead for the United States and Mexico — in space, and here on Earth.”

Melroy emphasized the unifying power of space. “From space, borders disappear,” she said, stressing the importance of international collaboration for the benefit of all humankind.

With reports from Proceso, El Universal, Associated Press and El Economista

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