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Russia Helps Guatemalan Man Become His Country's First Cosmonaut
by Staff Writers
Moscow (Sputnik) May 26, 2016

Image courtesy Vinicio Montoya.

Vinicio Montoya de Leon, a 49-year old native of Guatemala, is set to become the first Central American astronaut in history by late 2018 - early 2019. The chain of events that led an ordinary Guatemalan dentist to become a successful candidate for a space flight is nothing short of remarkable. "My life used to be pretty erratic, but after getting into a traffic accident I reexamined my priorities. I realized that there's one thing in the world that money can't buy - life. So I decided to live it to the fullest," Montoya told Sputnik.

This decision led Montoya to accomplish a number of feats, including climbing Mount Everest, scuba and sky diving, and working as a fireman. And eventually, a company that supported him in his endeavors suggested that he should enroll into an astronaut training course run by a private US enterprise as part of the suborbital flight program.

This training program effectively allowed Montoya to become an astronaut candidate for NASA, but as the stalwart Guatemalan managed to endure almost all of the trials put before him, the final test proved to be too much: since Montoya wasn't part of any national space agency, the only way for him to become a NASA astronaut candidate was to become a US citizen.

"A thing's value is determined by how much you pay for it. But to renounce my nationality would've been way too much. I'm proud to be a Guatemalan," Montoya stated.

At first Montoya didn't know what to do, but then a meeting with Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mohri set him back on track. "I asked him about what should I do, and he told me "Talk to the Russians. They have a very open-minded philosophy when it comes to space," he reminisced.

Taking Mohri's advice to heart, Montoya eventually managed to convince the Guatemalan government to help him and send an official request to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his visit to the country. The Russian statesman in turn approved of this plan and helped put it in motion.

After receiving an invitation from Roscosmos, Montoya, along with his wife Julia and his son Joaquin, arrived in Moscow. There he visited the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center and met with the head of the facility. He also met with two Russian cosmonauts who took part in the ISS Expedition 51.

"We talked, and their reaction was very positive, even comradely. One of them said that it would've been great to embark on a space expedition like that: two Russians and one Guatemalan," Montoya chuckled.

Even after Montoya finishes his training, he still faces a wait to head off into space, as there are no open spots on orbital expeditions until 2018.

"I believe that space erases borders. The geopolitical issues that matter so much on Earth lose their merit in space. And I do hope that these lessons would help us here, on the surface," said the man who is very likely to become Guatemala's first cosmonaut.

Source: Sputnik News

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