13 | DIC | 2019
Mexican student accepted in NASA’s Space Program for the third time
The IASP is fostered by 15 countries – Photo: Candice Carrazco Castañeda/Courtesy of Felipe Ávila Gómez

Mexican student accepted in NASA’s Space Program for the third time

23/08/2019
16:31
EL UNIVERSAL in English/Miranda Perea
Mexico City
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Felipe Ávila went to NASA’s International Air and Space Program in 2017 and 2018

Felipe Ávila Gómez is a Mexican student of the seventh semester of Nanotechnology Engineering at the Tonalá University Center (CUTonalá) of the University of Guadalajara (UdeG).

This year, Felipe, who is 21 years old, was accepted for the third time in a row to participate in the NASA’s International Air and Space Program (IASP) that will take place in Huntsville, Alabama next October 27th.

The program, which is fostered by 15 countries, such as the U.S., Russia, Japan, and Germany, will gather 55 talented youths from all over the world, who will receive astronaut training, flight, and diving classes. This year, at least five Mexicans were accepted to the program.

Academic Background

When Felipe Ávila was 18 years old, he started to participate in graduate courses, programs and workshops, such as the Research Program of Radio-Astrophysics in the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics (INAOE), where he had the opportunity to work closely with the Large Millimeter Telescope in Puebla; and the Graduate Course on Biomaterials, Nanotechnology, and Nanoscience at the Complutense University of Madrid.

Last January, Felipe, who also speaks Italian, English, and German, was part of the Thinkcamp HUB iLab incubation program, a 4-months intensive program on innovation and entrepreneurship to generate a real social solution that impacts on 10 million people, where he co-founded the startup Grupo Tecsol.
 

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The NASA Experience

The first time Felipe was accepted in the NASA’s International Air and Space Program was back in 2017 after winning with his team the competition Campus Party.

He found this multidisciplinary competition through social networks, his university, and the former Mexican Space Agency. He was so excited to participate that he visited different universities to look for other talented students to create a team. Felipe himself talked with the students to get to know their projects and to make sure they would be 100% committed with the competition.

The team was composed of Daniela Oropeza, student of Industrial Design in the University Center for Arts, Architecture, and Design (CUAAD); Valeria Janeth Barajas Aguilar, student of Biomedical Engineering in the University Center for Exact Sciences and Engineering (CUCEI); Montserrat de Fátima González, student of Biomedical Engineering in CUCEI; César Blanco, student of Physics in CUCEI, and Felipe. Their adviser was the professor Víctor Hugo Antolín Cerín, from CUTonalá, an expert in basic materials chemistry.

The project, which lasted for approximately 2 months, consisted of creating a plan for the Conquest of Mars. They competed against 37 teams in Mexico and won the first place; the prize was a 100% scholarship for the International Air and Space Program 2017.

Once at NASA, Felipe continued his winning streak by achieving first place in the competition of the IASP. With a new team of students from different countries, he developed a program to find life in Europe, one of Jupiter’s moons. They had to make a project proposal considering different variables, such as the number of astronauts they would take, the samples, the experiments, the kind of rocket they would use, the orbits, times, and duration of the project, as well as the funding to send a nanosatellite to Jupiter.

A year later, Felipe decided to apply for the next call of the IASP, but this time it was a worldwide contest. His background and his talent helped him to be accepted once again, but this time the scholarship did not cover all expenses. Fortunately, CUTonalá and UdeG helped him with economic support, but he still had to cover 30% of the expenses from his own pocket.

Once at NASA, in the IASP 2018, Felipe worked with another international team on the proposal of a composite material based on nanotechnology. The objective was to send nanoparticles of titanium monoxide to enhance the resistance and slow the deterioration of the material with which the International Space Station is built, as well as giving it use on Earth.

That year, he was appointed ambassador of the NASA in Mexico. His role is to bring young Mexicans closer to science and space. He asserts that there are many interested, but that they believe it is too complicated to succeed. However, Felipe is convinced this is not true and promotes educational programs with students of middle school and high school in Jalisco, where he lives.

As NASA ambassador, Felipe also promotes science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and even arts. People think that there are only scientists and engineers at NASA, but there is a multidisciplinary team of outstanding individuals with different perspectives and areas of expertise.

Currently, there are only three NASA ambassadors in Mexico: Felipe Ávila, in Jalisco, and Jonathan Sánchez and Obed Badillo, in Hidalgo.
 

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IASP 2019

For the third year in a row, Felipe has been accepted in the NASA’s International Air and Space Program. This time, he will participate along with two students from CUTonalá: Martha Ulloa and Montserrat Rivera.

Nevertheless, he is still looking for support to cover his expenses. Determined as he is, Felipe is currently looking for help from CUTonalá and the UdeG, as well as private companies that can sponsor him. He is also looking for support from the government in Tlaquepaque, Tonalá, and Jalisco.

The Importance of Social Impact

He says that he has been curious from a very young age. As a kid, he wanted to be a pilot, but the cost of the degree exceeded his family’s possibilities. In the end, he chose Nanotechnology Engineering because he loves being in the laboratory and inventing things, always bearing in mind the creation of solutions with a positive social impact locally, nationally and internationally.

He says that thanks to the iLab program in Durango, he has noticed that school projects have huge potential; they just need a better focus and knowing how to take them through the right road.

The young student is aware of the importance of working with a motivated and committed multidisciplinary team and said that, regarding businesses, what moves him is how they can boost social projects globally.

Felipe wants to invite more young students to participate in any kind of educational programs and scholarships they have access to. He is convinced that there are many opportunities in Mexico and that it is just a matter of believing in oneself, looking for them, applying, and always being prepared. “You never know when an excellent opportunity will come to completely change your path. I have noticed that Mexican talent is unique,” he concluded full of optimism.
 

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