A couple of Puerto Rican readers have taken us to task for highlighting the achievements of Hubbel telescope engineer Edward Cheung and Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor while not mentioning the first astronaut of Puerto Rican descent, Joseph Acaba, who has just today been honoured by Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño at a welcoming ceremony. The Discovery crew member was called “an example of hard work and dedication.” In his comments after the event, Acaba Herrero told the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día that seeing Earth from space made him realize the importance of protecting the environment.
Acaba, who was born in California to Puerto Rican parents, completed his astronaut training on February 2006 and was assigned to the Hardware Integration Team in the International Space Station branch, working technical issues with European Space Agency (ESA) hardware. Acaba was assigned to the crew of STS-119 as Mission Specialist Educator, which was launched on March 15, 2009 to deliver the final set of solar arrays to the International Space Station. Acaba, who boarded the space shuttle with a Puerto Rican flag, requested that the crew be awakened on March 19 (Day 5) with the Puerto Rico song “Que Bonita Bandera” (What a Beautiful Flag), written in 1971 by Florencio Morales Ramos (Ramito) and sung by José González and Banda Criolla. On March 20, he provided support to the first mission spacewalk and on March 21 he performed a spacewalk in which he helped to successfully unfurl the final “wings” of the solar array that will augment power to the ISS, as it prepares to double its capacity to house six astronauts in the future. “It was kind of surreal to look out the window and see your two buddies that you’ve been training with for a long time out there…it was a special moment,” said Acaba.