ask theory, astrophysics, kailan ba magkakaroon ng pinoy astronaut, rogel mari sese

Hosted by EIC Mikael Angelo Francisco, Ask Theory shines the spotlight on Pinoy scientific brilliance, in a fun and entertaining “kwentuhan” format. Each episode of Ask Theory  features a Pinoy scientist from one of the various scientific disciplines. In a very casual Taglish conversation, guests explain what they do in simple terms, as well as share their fascinating stories: how they got into science, the challenges they face, what motivates them to pursue their fields, what future scientists from the Philippines can look forward to, and so much more.

Episode 3: Kailan Ba Magkakaroon Ng Pinoy Astronaut?

When we think about space science, many of us tend to, well, space out. Thoughts of rockets and astronauts fill their minds; some even question the field’s value, saying that there are more urgent problems on Earth that need solving than how to send more people into space. What we don’t realize, though, is that the benefits of space science are a lot more grounded—in fact, without space tech, our lives would be very different, and a lot less convenient.

This episode of Ask Theory features Dr. Rogel Mari Sese, the Chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering of Ateneo de Davao University. He is the former Program Leader of the National SPACE Development Program, and the driving force behind the creation of the Philippine Space Agency and Philippine Space Development and Utilization Policy.

We talked about what an astrophysicist does, the oft-neglected ways that space science enhances our daily lives, why the Philippine Space Act and Philippine Space Agency represent a giant leap for the Philippines, and why we still don’t have a Pinoy astronaut. (And no, the dude who won that Space Academy competition from that men’s perfume brand nearly a decade ago doesn’t count—at least, not yet.)

Listen to Ask Theory Episode 003: “Kailan Ba Magkakaroon Ng Pinoy Astronaut?” here:

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Dr. Rogel [01:26]: Hi good afternoon– good day Mikael at sa lahat ng iyong listeners sa…good to be here in your program, in your podcast. And i’m very excited kasi nga it’s rare we get to talk about the space program and space especially for Filipinos. 

Mikael [01:44]: Oo nga sir. Actually ang tagal na since last tayo nagkausap ano? Parang last year pa po e. 

Dr. Rogel [01:50]: Yes, oo. Medyo matagal tagal na nga. But it’s always good to ano, that we get this conversation na to help the public understand and ano ano ba yung ibang ano, iba’t ibang areas ng science and to demystify it for them. 

Mikael [02:05]: Oo nga sir. Actually diba kapag naiisip kasi natin ang space science, parang automatic ang tao ang naiisip– and hindi naman masisi kasi pop culture diba. Ang automatic na naiisip ay astronaut. So pag Philippine Space Agency parang ang naiisip agad magpapadala tayo ng astronaut sa space. Pero bago natin pag usapan yan, pag-usapan muna natin kung ano ang ginagawa ng isang astrophysicist. And i’m sure it is impressive pero ano ba talaga po ang ginagawa ng isang astrophysicist? 

Dr. Rogel [02:37]: Okay. So siguro ano the listeners are familiar na, or nadinig na nila yung term ng astrophysicist and in some cases they also hear the term astronomer. Pero ang astrophysicist kasi is a combination, in a way, of astronomy and the physics component as the name implies nga. So may astro component and may physics component. So as astrophysicists what we do is we’re not just concerned with observing the behavior of celestial objects like stars, galaxies. So kung– hindi lang kami nagkukuha ng images, hindi lang kumukuha ng signals coming from galaxies, we also try to understand or gusto na rin naming intindihin at ano ba yung nangyayari bakit ganito yung nakikitang image or ganito yung nangyayaring process dun sa isang galaxy or sa isang star. So using the observations na nakukuha from telescopes whether its optical telescopes or radio telescope, we try to fit kung ano ba yung, using our existing knowledge of physical laws and principles, tinitingnan na if these conditions would happen, ito ba yung magiging result as what we observe. And in a similar manner, it also opens up the door for new kinds of physics na– kasi nga, if the current physics or current physical laws or theories that we have does not explain kung ano yung nakikita sa isang telescope, or sa isang radio telescope then we have to look ano ba talaga yung– or we have to look for a new theory that would explain itong phenomena or processes nato. So we– astrophysicists, we work both on the theoretical side and also on the observational side. So yun yung medyo challenging ng konti kasi kelangan marunong ka as an astrophysicist you have to know yung theory, yung physics behind different processes, but also aware ka din kung paano ba yung nangyayari or papano ba kinukuha itong mga images na ito. So ganon yung ano. And we mainly do this through simulation and– modelling and simulation. So as astrophysicists din, ano rin kami on programming and modelling, simulating what can happen. Kasi ang astronomical phenomena naman sometimes it takes millions of years to happen, and we can’t wait for millions of years so using computer simulations, we try to speed up the process. Sa ganon yung trabaho ng isang astrophysicist talaga. So it’s very glamorous pakinggan pero parang– challenging siya. It’s a very challenging field.  

Mikael [05:23]: So, ano lang po, kung halimbawa merong halimbawa grade 3, tapos tinanong po kayo, Sir, ano po ba ang astrophysicist? Paano niyo po ipapaliwanag sa bata yun? 

Dr. Rogel [ 05:35]: Oo e. Sa simpleng– simple terms, astrophysicist is someone who looks at the different phenomena or different events na nangyayari sa universe natin. I try to explain them using our understanding of physics. So that’s the simplest way, so it’s not just what it’s knowing what is out there but also why things are happening and how they happen at the same time. 

Mikael [06:03]: Ayun ang ganda. Not just what’s out there but also the why and the how. 

Dr. Rogel [06:08]: Yes, oo.  

Mikael [06:09]: Bilang astrophysicist, i’m sure na you have a busy schedule and kahit pandemic, sa nakikita ko nga po sa feed ninyo actually medyo busy kayo. Kwento niyo nga po sa amin ano ano ba yung mga project niyo ngayon? 

Dr. Rogel [06:23]: Oh okay. So right now kasi i’m in Ateneo De Davao University so i’m the chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. So but one of the projects that i’m handling, actually i’m handling two projects right now. One is with the Science Education Institute and this is the Tuklas Siyensiya Project, or Tuklas Siyensiya which is offshoot siya nung new lab bus which we were part of. So here we try to develop different science modules, online videos for different areas of sciences, including space science. So we have around eight different scientists that is going to make different modules, mga 10 to 15 minutes lang per module, para maintindihan yung topic na yun. So that includes epidemiology, mathematics, biology, [unintelligible] science, marine science, physics and space science. So this is a project being handled by the Science Education Institute and we’ve rolled out already two episodes of this. There are still 13 episodes, kasi 15 episodes siya, and i’m the lead resource person for that program. So part ako ng creative team that would draft– manage the script, draft the script and also work a bit on the production side. The other project that i’m handling right now is the Access Mindanao. So this is Ateneo De Davao Community Connectivity empowered by satellite services for Mindanao. So because of the COVID 19 pandemic, alam naman natin na we shifted everything online and that includes education as well. Pero alam rin natin na yung condition ng internet connectivity dito sa Pilipinas is hindi ganon kaganda. In the cities, for example, but it’s also– it’s much worse when you go to remote areas or to the provinces, especially here in Mindanao. Na there are really a lot of areas that do not have good connectivity or even any kind of connectivity at all. So part of the project– the objective of the– our project well Access Mindanao, is to bring in connectivity through the use of satellite services or telecom satellites. That way we don’t have to wait for years or for months or years na ila-lay down pa yung fiber network, yung cell tower, so in a matter of– actually, if everything is in place in a matter of one day we can provide connectivity to a school or to a community. So this is– for the past few weeks we’ve been going around the different parts of Mindanao, medyo challenging lang siya kasi nga there are travel restrictions, but then this is supported naman by the DICT and the Mindanao Development Authority. So we still manage to go to different areas and talk to the people, talk to the communities and prepare them so that in a couple of weeks from now, when we go back to these areas, we’ll be bringing in the equipment and they can have– they can be connected with the rest of the country and the rest of the world as well. So we have 8 sites all over Mindanao so we’re going in from the Easternmost point of the Philippines in Davao Oriental, to the southernmost point of the Philippines in Tawi Tawi. So pupuntahan namin lahat ng mga area na to. So medyo challenging siya and exciting and it’s– kumbaga it’s one of the ways to show how space technology can actually improve the quality of life for our fellow Filipinos. So hindi lang siya, as you mentioned earlier, hindi lang siya about going to Mars or having an astronaut in space, or going to the moon, it’s also improving the quality of life here on earth especially for those in remote areas. 

Mikael [10:20]: Oo napakaganda ng applications ng space science. Tapos nabanggit niyo po yung program niyo yung Tuklas Siyensiya, and actually napanood ko na po yung dalawang episode nun. And nakakatuwa nga siya so I suggest yung mga nakikinig sa atin, panuorin siya. And it’s nice na very broad yung sakop niya na branches of science. Hindi lang isa ang focus kung di marami, and napag usapan natin na marami ang branches of science, I have to ask you, kelan ba kayo naging interested sa science? Ano ba yung origin story niyo at bakit astrophysics? 

Dr. Rogel [10:59]: Okay. Siguro ano for me, I’ve– as early as I think 5 years old, i’ve known that I will be going in the field of space. Kasi one of the very first books that I had, was a book on astronomy and a book on space flights. So malaki yung naging impact sa akin nung book na yun, talagang tumatak siya sa isipan ko. Tapos despite being exposed to other areas of science like biology, because my mom is a botanist, so minsan dinadala niya ako sa laboratory nila sa biotech sa Los Banos, And then tinuturuan ako how to use microscopes and all the equipment pero I never got to the point that I was very passionate with it compared to– in the same way that i’m passionate or very interested in astronomy and space. So parang for me parang foregone conclusion na yun na space talaga ang magiging career ko. And then when I was in high school, I also liked the physics nung highschool, yung 4th year physics namin so i said okay, it would be interesting na mag astrophysics ako. Pero wala namang astrophysics na degree program nung time namin so I took the closest thing that I can which was applied physics. So with applied physics, I learned about the physical theories at the same time I also learned about the hardware, the electronic side, the computer programming side, and even a little bit also on the engineering side. So parang naging well rounded yung training as an applied phy– as an applied physics major and then when I went to my masters program, which is also in physics, dun medyo ginear ko na towards physics, towards astrophysics yung ano, yung thesis ko at the same time, so– when I graduated I pursued my PhD as well in Japan on the computational physics side. So in a way yung training ko I had the applied side or the experimental side nung undergrad, nung masters I learned about the theoretical side and then the, during PhD I learned the about the computational or yeah, computational side. So that gave me a more or less rounded training and also perspective on the field of astrophysics so hindi lang– although I specialize in one particular area, pero I also had training in experimental or observational astronomy as well. So ayun yung naging origin ko kumbaga na despite all the detours that i had, I still ended up in the field of space– going into the field of space, just as I was or just as I expected when I was 5, 6 years old. 

Mikael [14:11]: Ganda. So talagang kumbaga, one can say medyo written in the stars na. 

Dr. Rogel [14:17]: Yes, in a way, oo. 

Mikael [14:18]: Na mapupunta ka sa space science. Ito I have to ask, talagang ano e, talagang– just to get it out of the way, kelan nga po ba talaga magkakaroon ng Pinoy astronaut and ano po ba ang requirements in the first place para maging astronaut? Do you just apply sa NASA or something? What– ano bang kailangan?

Dr. Rogel [14:39]: Okay.

Mikael [14:39]: And sorry, naalala ko parang a few years back may “Pinoy astronaut” daw. Can you tell us a bit more about that din? 

Dr. Rogel [14:47]: Okay. I think we start with ano ba yung definition ng astronaut and ano– how do we differentiate it from another category like let’s say space tourist? When you say astronaut, the simplest definition, which is the definition that has been used in the past was anyone who has reached outer space. So when you say has reached outer space, this– they have been more than 100 kilometers above sea level. Which is considered to be the boundary of space. So kung makaabot ka dun then you’re considered to be an astronaut. But now with the way that things are going now, there’s an emerging class of “astronaut” na in reality they become more like a space tourist than an astronaut– than an actual astronaut. Kasi when you’re an astronaut, you have to be involved with the mission of the trip that you’re going. So you’re either a commander or payload specialist or part of the engineering team, and so on and so forth. So hindi ka lang passive– passive observer dun sa space flight, you’re also an active participant. As compared to a let’s say space tourist, na parang ano ka lang,  na ano ka lang observer ka lang and you get to experience free fall, yung micro gravity environment, but then you’re not really contributing much towards the mission. So in the same manner that when we ride an airplane, hindi naman lahat ng sumasakay ng airplane tinatawag natin na pilot, or tinatawag natin na flight attendant diba? So most of us passengers lang tayo because we are passive observers or passive participants in that flight. Whereas the pilots, the flight attendants, are active– they are actively involved in that flight. So yun yung, siguro, that’s the simplest way how do you differentiate an astronaut from a space tourist. So in the past kasi, I think 8 years ago, there was, yun nga– we had a competition to have ano, to have an astronaut– actually hindi lang sa Pilipinas yun. It was also done in other countries. And then they were trained for I think a week in the US pero it was more of an exploratory training lang naman. So and then eventually the company that was supposed to make the launch vehicle or the spacecraft, folded up already so medyo hindi talaga natuloy yun. So as of this moment, we really don’t have a true blue astronaut, a true blue Filipino astronaut. Although there were plans to have that I think as early as 2005 pero medyo na shelf pa siya. And then, are we going to have an astronaut in the next– in the near future? Probably not in the immediate– in my opinion, not in the immediate future. Kasi while it would be a big boost to let’s say to the field of space science, and it would bring a big hype it also runs into the danger of just being a hype na hindi siya sustained. And we’ve seen a lot of countries have that similar problem. We have a neighboring country in the Southeast Asian region who had that same problem as well. So pragmatically it would be best to have an astronaut once we see that we can have a sustained manned space program. That’s the most pragmatic way of approaching it. Unless we just want it to be a one shot deal which somewhere down the line people will start questioning why did we invest this amount if we did not get a lot of gains or benefits from it. And this is a challenge for space science especially in a developing country like the Philippines. So yun so we have to be a little bit careful on that, yun nga pogi points talaga siya pero we have to look at the big picture of our own space program as well. 

Mikael [19:12]: And yun nga kapag naiisip kasi natin ang space science or you know anything related to space, automatic mga foreign space agencies or you know, yun mga, mga mission, mga astronauts from different countries. But just recently may malaking– there was one giant leap for Filipinos in terms of space science. And that’s of course, the Philippine Space Act and kasabay nito yung Philippine Space Agency. So maari niyo po ba ikwento sa amin kung paano ba nasimulan hanggang naisulong yang Pinoy Space Act at Pinoy Space agency– Philippine Space agency? 

Dr. Rogel [19:55]: Okay. If you really want to look at the history, marami na namang naging space related activities ang Philippines in the past. As early as eighteen hundred– 1890s we’ve had activities related to astronomy. In the 1970s we have we even had a rocket development program known as Project Santa Barbara. So some of the viewers might see snippets of it online pero parang dumadating sa point na parang nagmumukha siyang urban legend na totoo bang nangyari to? But yes it was true, we had rocket development program– i’ve seen the rockets personally, few years ago before they were decommissioned. And I’ve seen also the full documentation of the program. Yun nga lang confidential siya so, I can’t share. 

Mikael [20:48]: Ah right. 

Dr. Rogel [20:48]: I can’t share the details of that. 

Mikael [20:51]: Pero at least na-confirm yung totoo…ayun.  

Dr. Rogel [20:54]: Yes it’s true. It’s not– it’s not an urban legend. Kasi yung nakikita online on about Project Santa Barbara, parang a picture of this tapos kung ano anong kwento of another picture tapos kung ano anong kwento. But yes i’ve read the full documentation, including the budget allocations, who were the people involved, everything. And what equipment and material was used in all of those. I’ve seen the documentation. I’ve read it thoroughly. So this was part of the self-reliant defense posture program back in the 70s. In the 1990s naman we also had– we had our first telecoms satellite. Yun nga, yung Agila II, yes which was already decommissioned. But then in the 2012-2013, kasi dati parang hindi pinapansin ang space. So parang okay, sige, aanhin natin yan, ganyan diba…so hindi siya ganon. But then medyo nag-iba yung ihip ng hangin when we try to do a retrospective analysis. Parang nung 2012-2013, medyo nag-iba yung ihip ng hangin na as far as how the government perceives space kasi may– we narrow it to two events, one was what was happening in the West Philippine Sea during that time. That was the time we lost also control of Scarborough Shoal, so one of the reasons why we had difficulty patrolling or managing the West Philippine Sea area is we don’t have any assets in space that can regularly look at the site or look at the whole area or…which is quite big. And then the other one was in 2013 yung Typhoon Haiyan or Typhoon Yolanda. Which devastated Central Visayas especially Leyte and Samar. And it came to a point that the extent of the devastation brought down the whole telecommunication– groundbase telecom infrastructure so wala yung mga cell tower and everything. And the only way people can communicate was through the use of satellite phones. Recently that has been demonstrated again in I think Catanduanes with Typhoon Rolly na the only we they can communicate was through sat phones. So in 2013, DOST commissioned Manila Observatory to do a baseline study– baseline research ano ba ang meron ang Philippines when it comes to space science and technology application. So this was led by Dr. Celine Vicente of the Manila Observatory in Ateneo De Manila University. And then it worked on a lot of different aspect, but one of the key aspect or the key results that came out from that is one, it showed that we have been doing a lot or we have been investing a lot in terms of space related capabilities, yun nga lang hiwa-hiwalay with the different government agencies. So some of them are DOST, some DENR some in DA DND and so on. So we don’t have any central agency na magma manage and this if– actually led to problems such as duplications of projects, duplication of resources. So and then the other one was we don’t have a clear strategy or clear framework on what does the Philippines want to do when it comes to space. So as an offshoot of– as a result of that baseline research, it was decided that we need to have, if we are going to have a space program, we need to have a policy and agency at that happens at the same time. Otherwise a policy, or a space policy without an agency that would implement it would just be a piece of paper. An agency without a policy that it will implement will just be a headless chicken running around not knowing what it’s going to do. So it has to happen at the same time. So the next step in that was we started now working on the policy so there were numerous stakeholder consultations with academe and this was in 2014. At the same time that the star project Diwata program or the Phil microsat program started…in parallel siya. So we had consultations with academe, government industry, defense sectors and even regional consultations. So that’s where the whole space policy was crafted. By 2015, everything was in place, ipu-push na sana for legislation but then we realized that 2016 was the Presidential election. So if we push it at that time, uulit lang. So masasayang lang yung effort kasi magkakaroon ng bagong administration, ng bagong congress, so might as well wait for 2016 before it’s pushed for legislation. But then in the interim we had the National Space Development Program which was tasked to develop the roadmap, the 10 year development roadmap for research and development, for satellites, for industry development as well, and also craft the draft bill so that by the time the space agency becomes– or gets created, it will not become, as a matter– kumbaga the foundation has already been there. So when 2016 came in with the new administration, so talagang pinush na magkaroon ng ano– so nag file agad very early on, Congressman [unintelligible}, Congressman Jalosjos filed the bill, the first bill, in congress and then Senator Bam Aquino filed the counterpart bill in Senate. So halos one month difference lang yung dalawa nung finile. And then in the course of the next 3 years during the 17th congress, talagang…ako personally I would say that was one of the hardest things that I had to do lobbying for the Philippine Space Agency and Space Policy. Kasi I had the difficult task of explaining, why does a country like the Philippines needs space to congressmen and senators in a manner that they can understand. 

Mikael [27:13]: Understand. 

Dr. Rogel [27:14]: Yun yung– yun yung challenging kasi e. Because you can always talk in a manner na very technical na parang wow ang galing, wow ang ano, ang galing nung ano nung ginagawa but then at the end of the day you have to make them understand. You have to demystify. 

Mikael [27:28]: Yes. 

Dr. Rogel [27:29]: What is space and how does it relate or how does a common Filipino would benefit from it. So hindi lang– hindi lang dapat a certain sector yung nag– everyone should benefit from space. So I had– minsan talagang 15 minutes lang ang ano ang halimbawa 15 minutes lang yung allocation so I have to convince the senator in 15 minutes siyempre hindi ko nagawa kasi I did it in 10.

Mikael [28:00]: Wow. 

Dr. Rogel [28:00]: So yun yung ano. So tho it was– I think one of the most challenging science communication activities that I’ve done and then it happens frequently kasi you– of course you have to explain it to a lot of the legislators and sometimes the notice for a meeting comes only like the night before tapos 9am yung meeting the next day so I have- I have to drop everything that I was doing kasi hindi– you never know when you’re going to get an opportunity to meet again. So, kailangan talaga parang go, sige, push yan so- so that was and I live– back when I was still living in Laguna so challenging talaga yung [——] back and forth, tapos only to find out na parang “ay post poned”

Mikael [28:49]: Ouch.

Dr. Rogel [28:50]: Okay. Okay, sige. So, so it happens– it happens. I– I don’t fault them. I know the legislators [——] but then siguro the–the good thing is I also saw the positive feedback from our legislators na yes the– I think lahat ng legislators na nakausap ko really agreed that we need to have this space program. That was one of the reasons why there was no opposition in the– when it was being deliberated on the floor in ano– in congress and in [——]. Walang nag [——] so it was a unanimous vote–

Mikael [29:28]: Wow.

Dr. Rogel [29:29]: – from Congress and Senate for ano– for that and yon siguro that was..I would say one of my [——] achievement because it’s not easy to convince full of legislators and politicians that we need space technology, we need space science and technology diba. So, but then I’m also very thankful for our legislators kasi nga contrary to what people will think they understood the ano– the necessity kasi sometimes they would come by and I– I give them the briefing materials, sometimes they would come back to me with questions and ako, being the one who grafted the briefing materials, I would know na naintindihan niya kasi he would not be asking that kind of question if hindi niya naintindihan yung ano– yung briefing material about– about the philippine– about the bill. So, naiintindihan. Contrary to what people would say “ay kaya lang pumasa yan kasi hindi naman nila [unintelligible]”. Sorry po sainyo. Sorry to disappoint you, but yes our legislators understood why it was necessary and– and that is the reason why it was–it passed without any opposition so, and then medyo last ano pa nga yan– photo finished pa yan in 2019 kasi the 17th Congress was closed nun.

Mikael [30:58]: Ay naalala ko ‘to.

Dr. Rogel [31:00]: And, yes, oo that is one of the most stressful time for us na involved–na directly involved ‘don kasi there was one typo error.

Mikael [31:13]: Oh.

Dr. Rogel [31:15]: And ano, it was a matter of just omitting 1 word. But then for some reason, I missed–na miss ko siya. Namiss siya ng mga–Senate, ng congress, so for some reason na-miss lang talaga siya. Well, it happens naman. Pero, it has to be passed on the last day of the 17th Congress. Kasi ano na yon eh, that was already the [——] version. But then that page with the correction has to be signed by Senate, transmitted to Congress, for the counterpart signature in Congress, and then transmit it back to Senate for the passing ng ano. So we know na the Senate is located near Mall of Asia, diba near–tapos ayun nga Congress is located in Batasan–

Mikael [32:04]: Ang layo.

Dr. Rogel [32:04]: –in Quezon City so parang literal na tatawid lang ng Metro Manila and then it was a matter of 3 hours–parang 3 hour window lang siya. 

Mikael [32:16]: Grabe.

Dr. Rogel [32:17]: So parang hala if it didn’t pass, then, start from zero the next Congress yon. And I don’t want to do that.

Mikael [32:26]: Grabe yung hassle ‘no.

Dr. Rogel [32:28]: Yes, so I think that was one of the most stressful–until, yun nga, we received the notice that “yes it was already approved” , [——] “hayy, sa wakas for all the effort, nakahinga”–dun lang nakahinga na parang “yes, pumasa siya, hindi siya nasayang lahat nung effort na yon.” And a very few people know that story, I think it’s only less than a handful of us na who knows that na it came very close to not being passed in 2019. Siguro kung nadelay-delay pa ng 1 hour baka hindi na siya pumasa.

Mikael [33:02]: Naku. Traffic pa naman sa Manila.

Dr. Rogel [33:05]: It was that close. Oo. But in one of the ano nga–I think one of the biggest achievement in that is that we were able to do it in a matter of 3 years.

Mikael [33:15]: Oo nga.

Dr. Rogel [33:16]: So creating a new space agency and policy or a new government office usually, sabi nila, it takes 9-12 years before you can create a new government office–mahabang deliberation yan. But then, for the space agency, we did it only in a single Congress, only in the 17th Congress in less than 3 years. So I think that was–I give kudos to our legislators who supported us in that endeavor talaga na it was a landmark achievement kasi it also opens up the door not just for Space science, it was also for other fields of sciences na if we can do this, we can change the policy–the Science policy landscape for a topic that is literally and figuratively out of this world, like space. Then, that means we can do it also for other fields of sciences. So that’s also a challenge now to our other scientists na yes we can influence, we can change the landscape of science policy here in the Philippines. Hindi siya suntok-sa-buwan kumbaga using a space metaphor.

Mikael [34:28]: Gusto ko yung, yes, ang dami nating space metaphors sa usapang ‘to, I–

Dr. Rogel [34:33]: Yes.

Mikael [34:36]: Talagang saktong sakto. Ako rin po alam ko–medyo may alam akong konti ‘don sa kwento nitong pagbuo ninyo nito at napapag-usapan ‘to dati and yun ‘no, sakin, saludo talaga ako sa effort ninyo and yung mga–everyone who played a role in turning this dream into a reality talaga. Into something na, ngayon meron na tayong Philippine Space Agency and talagang alam ko dugo’t pawis ang nagdala niyan. At ang ganda ng sinabi niyo po na yung challenge nito, not just–kasi, if you think about, yun nga, yung space science, it’s something very un–na relatively unfamiliar sa pangkaraniwang–tenga  nating mga kahit sakin, pangkaraniwang Pilipino, hindi natin naassociate ang space science sa Pilipino o sa siyensya sa Pilipinas. Pero ‘di rin natin narerealize actually na ang space science is part of our lives in more ways than we know and–or that we’re aware of. 

Dr. Rogel [35:34]: That’s true.

Mikael [35:34]: So sa paanong–kasi usually pag sa tao, “para saan ba yan?”, “so what?”, “ano bang applictaion niyan sa totoong buhay?”, “paano ba ako giginhawa diyan?”. So ano ba ang–sa paanong paraan ba tayo natutulungan ng space science sa araw-araw na buhay.

Dr. Rogel [35:51]: Okay. So when we say, yun nga, yung mga applications ng space science, marami kasi yan eh. And in the same way that we–pero yun nga–hindi natin napapansin in the same manner na hindi na natin napapansin na “uy, yung kuryente, yung tubig”, sometimes we take it for granted. It’s only when things go wrong, or there has–there are problems na narerealize natin na yun nga, kailangan pala ng space. So one of the biggest applications, so this ties very well with the project I’m handling, is on telecommunications side. So a lot of–yun nga–if we want to bridge what we call the digital divide, you know na rapidly, quickly–the fastest way to go is to use satellites for telecommunications and hindi lang siya for internet access, in fact a lot of us are already using space technology. If you have yung satellite dish from signals, sa labas ng bahay niyo, if you notice it’s pointed to a particular spot in the sky and there’s a reason for that–because you are receiving the signal directly coming from the satellite itself. This is what we call “direct-to-home broadcasting”, DTH. So yun, kaya tayo nakakakuha ng cable channel, and so on. It’s because of DTH. Then we you look at your own smartphones, diba, the moment you activate location services sa smartphone mo, your smartphone is actually receiving signals from Global Navigation Satellite Systems or what we call GNSS. That’s the generic term, kumbaga sa medicine, meron tayong generic term, ang brand name niya ay GPS or Global Positioning System. So GPS kasi is run by the US Airforce but then there are counterparts–similar systems run by Russia, by China, by India, by Europe and so on. Pero yun nga, pinaka kilala yung GPS. So you actually receive signals coming from satellites, at least 3, the more the merrier, kung marami kang nakukuhang signal. And then using those signals, the time that it takes for those signals to reach your phone, dun niya cinacalculate kung saang part ka ng mundo or where you are on the surface of the earth. So this is the reason why we can use applications like Google, like Waze, Waze for example–is a very big application. So pag alam mong traffic nakikita mo kung nasan ka, ano yung mga areas saan ka pwede dumaan. So that’s another very common application na hindi natin napapansin. 

And then you also have applications in other fields na, well, before going to that, of course, weather forecasting and environmental or agricultural monitoring are biggest applications also for the Philippines. So for us here in the Philippines na typhoon-central tayo, around 20 every year, we just had one last week, well, or the other week I should say, malaking bagay na alam natin na ano, using satellite imagery makikita natin yung nasaan ang isang typhoon, and then anong direction siya using computer modelling or computer simulations, we can predict where this typhoon will go and that entails providing early warning to our fellow countrymen, na they need to evacuate, they need to go to higher grounds, and so on. And that saves lives, that saves a lot of lives, and property as well kasi hindi na sila complacent na dun lang na “di lilipas din yan”, only to find out na ang lakas lakas pala nung ano–and this is I think where I’ll cite the example of Albay. 

Albay has a very good disaster risk reduction and management program na–and this was ano, this was started back during the time of  Congressman**Joey  Salceda who incidentally nung governor pa siya ng Albay, who incidentally is one of the prime movers of the Philippine Space Act in Congress. So, nakita talaga na–that’s why they have very minimal casualties whenever there’s a typhoon and lagi silang nadadaanan ng typhoons.
And the same technology of understanding or looking at the surface of the earth can be applied also for environmental monitoring, ano ba nangyayari sa mga karagatan natin, anong nangyayari sa mga mangroves or coastal areas natin, even in our mountains-and also in agriculture. Malaki yung application when it comes to what we call Precision Agriculture or Smart Agriculture so using satellite imagery, we can predict how many cavans of rice can be harvested or which crops would be most suitable or which areas need to be irrigated and so on. But this is mainly on the field of Space Science and Technology lang talaga but then there are other applications that hindi natin narerealize that were offshoots of space research and development, like for example–ano bang magandang example–MRI scanners that we have right now, yung mga scanners that we use for medical imagery, they were also used, they were initially used for space research. The **memory foam mattresses that we use para hindi masakit yung likod natin pag natutulog, initially we use din yan as foam mattresses for astronauts because they experience a lot of gravitational force during lift-off**, so these are just some of the applications na in other fields or in other areas na hindi naman natin narerealize na “uy, o nga no [——] pala yung space science–yes, oo, that’s true. 

So yun nga, medyo na–kumbaga parang di lang tayo aware na gumagamit na pala tayo ng space technology, what are filtrations for example–is another example of that–compact water filtration na ginagamit ng astronauts and so on. So, marami yan. Ang daming offshoots and it’s very ubiquitous now in our society to the point that sometimes we don’t realize, we don’t recognize that these are products of space technology. 

Mikael [42:52]: Yun. So ang dami ngang kamangha-manghang bagay na galing sa space science na hindi natin narerealize na parang dahil everyday, nagiging komportable yung buhay natin, and we don’t actually think about the role that space science plays in life as we know it or in society as we know it. 

Dr. Rogel [43:13]: Yes, that’s true.

Mikael [43:14]: And, you know, space itself is full of wonders. Ang dami daming kamangha-manghang bagay sa space. So I have to ask you, as an astrophysicist, as a lover of science, ano ba yung pinaka-kamangha-manghang bagay na natutunan mo in your years as an astrophysicist? 

Dr. Rogel [43:33]: Parang ang dami, ang dami eh. Pero siguro I’ll go back to one of my previous specialization, and that’s more–when my research work was involving massive star formation. So, kasi massive star formation is a very challenging field kasi, of course we now understand like how the stars, like the sun, form. But then for massive stars, it’s always a challenge kasi dahil nga they’re more massive, they’re more luminous, sometimes it becomes a question na paano sila nafoform kung laging malakas yung radiation palabas because of the luminosity and then so part of the work that I did was yun nga, understanding how that process happens na instead of being encompassing na parang globe na most of the material that it gains are confined in a disc na yun yung–eventually ends up being a part of the star. What is interesting for this, is because massive stars, understanding how massive stars form would give us also an insight on how the first stars in the universe formed.  

Mikael [45:07]: Oh, okay. 

Dr. Rogel [45:09]: Kasi ano yun eh, nakalink dun yun eh. Na because these are objects na right from, [——] very massive, the first stars are super massive talaga sila so, it’s linked to that. So knowing how our massive stars would form at this point in time, the lifetime of our universe, gives us insight on what happened at the very early stages of the universe, nung wala pang kahit anong star. How did they form in the first place. Because bakit importante yon? Kasi, I’ll go back to what the famous quote by Carl Sagan said na “we are all made of star stuff” diba. Which is true because all the elements that we see here on earth and everywhere else, were, at some point in time in the past, part of a star, or were created inside a star. So kasi, stars begin as hydrogen gas lang eh, mostly hydrogen. Then eventually they produce helium, then they become–they produce heavier and heavier elements. until we reach the heaviest element that can be formed inside a star which is iron, iron and nickel in some cases.  And then when it explodes, that’s where we get all these other sorts of elements as well like all the way up to uranium yung mga naturally existing elements natin. So, the carbon in our bodies were, at some point in the past, formed inside a star. So understanding how stars were or how the mechanism of star, stellar formation, evolution and [——] and even the interaction between–is a big way forward towards understanding the universe. If we liken the universe to a body, to a human body for example, we can think of stars, na parang ano yan eh, parang isang cell. And then we can think of galaxies as a collection of cells ng isang organ, diba like yun. But then, we have all these interactions happening in it; so understanding how the cell would work would give us also an insight on how it interacts with the rest of the body as well and it’s the same way with stars as well. So that’s why for me, yun yung isang, dun ako nag draw, when I was looking for what would be my specialization.

Mikael [47:48]: Okay, ganda. And para sa mga nakikinig satin ngayon, if you’re feeling down today, or if you feel like you need a bit of cheering up, tandaan niyo lang yung sinabi ni doc na we are–na inaffirm ni doc, na we are indeed made of star stuff. So star ka. 

Dr. Rogel [48:04]: Yes!

Mikael [48:05]: So wag kang malungkot. Kahit ano pang mangyari, star ka. So yun. Ang dami kong natutunan doc, and everytime I talk to you and to the scientists, to Pinoy scientists, lagi kong naiisip na sana mahaba yung time na magkwentuhan. pero, alam kong busy ka rin so, paano kung halimbawa, may mga nakikinig tayo diyan na gustong mag reach out sayo, paano ka–ano yung pinaka magandang paraan para macontact ka nila?

Dr. Rogel [48:34]: Okay. So, ano naman ako eh, I think, very accessible. Sometimes too accessible. Kasi public naman ako sa Facebook, I have my Facebook. But then I also have my personal Facebook account pero medyo magiging crowded na siya so I am thinking of purging it a bit kasi siyempre, that’s a personal account. But I also have the Pinoy Space Guy page in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram I think. I don’t update it as much, as often as I would want to kasi yun nga meyo busy tayo. Even in Facebook medyo minimal na rin kasi ang daming ginagawa. But then you can always reach me through either, ayun nga, Facebook, preferably Facebook, yun yung pinakamadali. Or email, just email lang at rmdsese@adu.edu.ph. So that’s the fastest way.

Mikael [49:38]: Ay naalala ko tuloy, gusto ko lang ikwento rin. Kayo rin si Pinoy Train Guy diba? 

Dr. Rogel [49:43]: Ay yes, oo. Pero medyo mahirap na rin yung Train Guy ngayon kasi another–I’m now based here in Davao City so medyo hindi ko na na-uupdate kung ano yung nangyayari. Pero that’s interesting kasi that was unintentional, wala naman talaga akong balak non na–kumbaga I just–nag video lang talaga ako nung first train, first trip ng train from my hometown which is Los Baños, Laguna to Manila just because I had to go–ayun kumbaga hindi naman siya “uy, sakay ako para lang sumakay”, kailangan ko lang talagang pumuntang Manila and I couldn’t drive that day. So sumakay ako just did a very short vlog lang naman, well hindi nga vlog eh, parang review lang. I didn’t really intend to vlog, to make it as a vlog. Pero yun nga,  medyo kumalat siya for some reason nag viral yung post na ‘yon and then ang nakakatawa don it came to the point na ako na yung tinatanong ng schedule ng train, bakit wala pa daw yung train sa [——], tapos may point din na tinawagan din ako ng [——] na “ay pakisabi nalang po na walang train ngayon kasi ganito ganyan”, so parang–so I had to make Pinoy Train Guy, para maseparate lang siya and then the funny thing is mas maraming naging subscriber and Pinoy Train Guy kesa sa Pinoy Space Guy. So yun yung ano, mas maraming nagtatanong na parang okay, this is interesting pero yun nga medyo ‘di ko na siya natututukan since I’m based now here in Davao since I think March or May [unintelligible].

Mikael [51:38]: Yun, tingin ko kasi mas marami talagang, maraming curious talagang makasakay din nung train, lalo na nakita ko nga yung video na parang “Okay ‘to ah, parang [——]” saka yun nga, ginagamit ng tao araw-araw I imagine, since you know, 8 months into our extended home arrangements pag stay sa bahay eh medyo naiintindahan ko rin na wala masyadong activity kay Pinoy Train Guy, feeling ko naman ganun talaga eh. 

Dr. Rogel [52:09]: In fairness naman, the [——] is doing a lot of–medyo slightly ano na rin sila, medyo nagiging– yung communication nila with the public is much better na.

Mikael [52:26]: Ginagamit ang social media and you now, other externals.

Dr. Rogel [52:30]: Yes, oo. Sila [——] sila ang mamanage nun hanggang maganda na yung nagiging interaction nila with the public.

Mikael [52:42]: So, doc, ano bang gusto mong–meron ka bang gustong i-promote or ikwento sa ating mga viewers na one last thing or anything na project, upcoming?

Dr. Rogel [52:53]: Ah okay so yun nga, a lot–marami kasing interested din sa ano–so, sa space and I think one of the common question kasi na nakukuha ko rin during my pubic talks, lalo na for the younger generations, mga students natin na “uy, gusto ko mag astrophysicist, gusto ko mag-work sa NASA or mag-work sa **PHILSA” so one of the questions is what does it take daw–what do you need to become an astrophysicist? So usually I tell them, I tell people, na actually you need to have a PhD for you to be an “aphy”** but this is not the same PhD na you’ll get from an educational institution, it’s a different kind of PhD. The first is “P” which is “passion”. So, kasi hindi ka naman pupunta sa field ng space science and technology or astrophysics, astronomy, or aerospace engineering kung ‘di ka talaga passionate sa area na yun.  You really have to be dedicated and passionate in the field kasi yun yung talagang magd-drive sayo to pursue the field. The next one is “H” which is “hardwork”. You need to do a lot of hardwork. Kasi becoming an astrophysicist, does not, cannot, and will not happen overnight. It’s a lifelong journey, it’s a lifelong learning, so kahit ako, even at this stage of my career, I’m still learning a lot. So challenging talaga siya. Kailangan talaga may plano ka, anong gusto mong ma-achieve, ano yung gusto mong marating, o ano yung gusto mong maging area or specialization, so that entails a lot of hardwork. And then the last one is “D”, which is “determination” kasi if passion will thrive you to start in the field of space science, it’s determination that will eventually drive you to finish what you have started. So, yun yung challenge talaga na we have to really be determined. Kailangan talaga determined ka sa field of space science otherwise, baka mag-give up ka lang. So, for our younger generations, or for the students who want to become a specialist in the field of space, talagang ”PhD”, passion, hardwork, and determination. And we have a lot of programs now that is offering space-related activities. Also, yun nga, but there’s no single way. We have programs like, what i handle here in Ateneo de Davao, we have the BS Airspace Engineering program, which is one of the earliest–I think this is the first in Mindanao,and a first from a major university that has an aerospace engineering program. This is very different from aeronautical engineering kasi we also have aspects when it comes to space. 

So yun, there are–then we have a lot of physics program as well–astronomy programs in RTU and so on. So there are a lot of ways to be in the field of space science. It’s as vast as the universe itself, and siansabi nga namin sa field of space science, for us, the sky is not the limit.

Mikael [56:20]: So, tandaan niyo yan. Sa mga star diyan and star balang araw ng astrophysics dito sa Pilipinas: PhD. So, maraming salamat po doc. I really enjoyed this, and I’m sure that our listeners learned a lot from you din. So, maraming salamat po at pinaunlakan niyo kami, at nag guest kayo dito sa ating show.

Dr. Rogel [56:40]: Thank you very much and it’s always a pleasure to talk to you Mikael. I’m always very happy to communicate and to talk to your audience when it comes to promoting the field of space science and technology kasi I think it’s good na you’re doing this so that more Filipinos will understand ano ba talaga ang space, bakit kailangan natin ng space. I’m sure marami rin sa mga listeners ang nangangailangan ng space–it’s a different kind of space. So, bibigyan namin kayo ng space as much as possible.

Mikael [57:17]: Literal and figurative ano.

Dr. Rogel [57:21]: Yes, oo, usually tinatanong ko yun, parang “sino sainyo ang interested sa space?”, maraming magtataas. “Sino sainyo ang gustong pumunta sa space?”, maraming nagtataas. “Sino sainyo ang nangangailangan ng space?”, yon, maraming nagtataas. May mga hugot [——].

Mikael [57:38]: Yun talaga eh. Mga Pinoy talaga mahugot eh.

Dr. Rogel [57:41]: Yes, that’s true. Pero it makes things more fun and enjoyable. 

Mikael [57:45]: That’s true, and hopefully it can make science fun and enjoyable for everyone too. Thank you so much Doc, and take care. And talk to you again soon.

Dr. Rogel [57:54]: Thank you Mikael and thank you for having me here and I hope na marami pa yung mga episodes na ganito na magdedemystify ng iba’t ibang–

Mikael [58:04]: Ay yes sir, kakausapin po namin lahat ng scientists sa Pilipinas.

Dr. Rogel [58:06]: That’s great! Kasi kailangan–it also helps that our fellow countrymen or fellow Filipinos would know sino ba yung mga scientists sa’tin and sino sa mga — kasi yung mga kilala nilang scientists mga nasa abroad without knowing na “uy marami pala tayong scientists dito sa Pilipinas”.

Mikael [58:25]: That is so true. Okay, thank you doc, ingat po.

Dr. Rogel [58:29]: Thank you, ingat and keep safe!


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Author: Mikael Angelo Francisco

Bitten by the science writing bug, Mikael has years of writing and editorial experience under his belt. As the editor-in-chief of FlipScience, Mikael has sworn to help make science more fun and interesting for geeky readers and casual audiences alike.