This 20 Year-Old Student Might Be the First Mexican on Mars

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It may not be a great idea for a Mexican citizen to be running around the deserts of the southwest in a conspicuous pressurized suit, but in the case of 20-year-old Yair Israel Piña López – who has been selected to by NASA to participate in a simulated Mars landing in the Utah this spring – Mexico has quite literally sent their best.

The ongoing project will bring six crew members to the Mars Desert Research Station outside of Hanksville, Utah (population 214,) where the stark topographical conditions are comparable to those of the red planet. There, volunteers spend two weeks carrying out the equivalent of an elaborate astronaut cosplay, roaming the desert in space suits and oxygen tanks as they carry out individual research projects in restricted conditions. It may sounds like a really elaborate sci-fi version of Dungeons & Dragons, but in truth these missions are helping NASA do some important R&D for an eventual mission to Mars.

“I’m very proud,” he said in a recent statement regarding his selection. “Now in Mexico we need to support each other to get ahead, and it fills me with pride to be able to carry the flag of Mexico on such an important mission, and make the first mission to Mars a real possibility.”

The UNAM physics student made headlines last year when he became NASA’s youngest student-researcher, a distinction he earned after publishing a paper in the Journal of Physics that outlined a new method for detecting radiation levels in outer space. But even if the thermoluminescent properties of stronium 90 aren’t your thing, most anyone can get pumped about a Mars landing – even if they’re just playing pretend. Either way, we’re one step closer to seeing Mexico’s glorious tricolor waving in the methane breeze of our neighboring planet.