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Science & Tech Minister Paula Bogantes Zamora’s Vision for Costa Rica’s Space Agency

Today is International Women’s Day. To commemorate this day, I am pleased to share a special space related conversation I had with a remarkable Costa Rican leader.

On February 6, 2023, Paula Bogantes Zamora was sworn in as Costa Rica’s new Minister of Science, Innovation,Technology and Telecommunications (MICITT). Upon assuming her new ministerial role, she also took on a unique additional responsibility, heading the board of directors of the Costa Rican Space Agency.

Yes, Costa Rica has a space agency.

It was signed into law on March 27, 2021, making Costa Rica the first country in Central America to establish a space agency.

Previously, Mrs. Bogantes was Vice Minister of Foreign Trade and previously served as Manager of Digital Technologies, Advanced Manufacturing and Clean Technologies for the Costa Rican Investment Promotion Agency (CINDE).

In this interview Mrs. Bogantes shares her vision and expectations for developing Costa Rica’s counterpart to NASA and the benefits it will bring the country.

When did you first become interested in outer space and what have been humanity’s biggest achievements in space so far?

If I have to point out a first moment in my life, I must credit the Cosmos documentary series (written by Carl Sagan) as the main trigger. It was the best set of explanations for an 8-year-old girl at the time, but also, the best set of inspirations to learn more about our planet and its surroundings.

For me, space exploration is a challenge that constantly pushes humanity not only to understand the (yet) unknown, but to try new possibilities, new thresholds and even new abilities that naturally generate development. So far, I believe that the greatest achievement of humanity in space has been enhancing science and reducing its dependence on our planet’s limited resources.

The book To the Stars: Costa Rica in NASA documented the inspiring stories of several Costa Ricans who have gone on to work at a variety of NASA centers.

They range from one of the world’s most accomplished astronauts, a high-ranking director at NASA HQ, technicians who have helped build space telescopes, rovers and probes as well as award winning oceanographers, scientists and engineers.

Several other Costa Ricans are working in the space business in Europe and several more Costa Ricans have joined NASA as contractors in the last few years. A new generation of Costa Ricans has been developing homegrown space missions and launching satellites.

What do you think their success and ambition says about Costa Rica’s education system and where this momentum can take Costa Rica in the future?

The educational system of Costa Rica is one of the most valuable things that we have as citizens. We must be proud. Our history shows that somewhat miraculously, our education is a great source of brilliant professionals, scientists, technologists, artists, and even talented game-changers that have impacted the world with their ideas, inventions and creativity.

However, this educational system must be adapted and updated at the same speed of technological growth. As Minister, I´m committed to the promotion and creation of capabilities in science, innovation and technology, understanding it as an enabling tool for development, and the way to create competitive advantages for our country.

In that same way of thinking, one important challenge that we have as a country, is the inclusion of women in science and technology, and for this reason we launched the 2018-2027 National Policy for Equality between women and men in training and employment in areas such as Science, Technology, Telecommunications and Innovation.

While we have our challenges to tackle soon, we also have to plan and strategize from the potential that our educational system has shown. We have to remember and honor our current heroes, Dr. Franklin Chang and Mrs. Sandra Cauffman. They showed the world that Costa Ricans can be successful and capable dreamers, and that our country has everything to be progressively involved in the space business.

As Costa Rica’s Minister of Science and Technology you also have another important hat to wear, as head of the new Costa Rica Space Agency’s board of directors. 

What are your main priorities regarding the development of Costa Rica’s new space agency?  What benefits do you think a strong and functioning space agency would bring to Costa Rica?

My main goal as President of the Costa Rican Space Agency is to ensure that we pay attention not only to our local ambitions and urgencies, but to accept the global levels of excellence that are needed to be a serious player in the space agenda.

That includes being proactive in designing and improving specialized educational programs, revamping our research processes and strategically involving the current talent that our country has in the related science fields.

When we think of the Space Agency, we must not imagine an agency of the future. It has to be an active entity that generates and supports projects of high technology and engineering.

It has to be involved in the observation and exploration of space, promoted from the Government, the academy and also corporations, understanding that these efforts will bring more prospects for development.

NASA has offered the Costa Rican government to sign an internship agreement which would open doors for Costa Ricans to take part in internships at NASA centers in the United States. Costa Rica did not sign this agreement.

Do you think the Costa Rica Space Agency might be able to resolve this impasse?

The possibility of taking advantage of the indicated internships was reviewed by the Ministry. However, due to some issues with the legal and financial framework of these internships at NASA, it has not been possible for the institution to support the program.

MICITT has designed its own and supported other internship programs, student exchanges and financing higher studies for Costa Ricans in other countries. In this regard, I would like to recommend to the Tico Times’ readers to be attentive to the information shared by our Innovation and Research Promotion Agency.

The Agency will be the point of contact, a facilitator, with academia and industry in this field, and this will undoubtedly translate into technological development and the expansion of our current capabilities as a country. This will also allow the improvement in quality recognition and the global reach of our products and services.

Mexico, Chile and Argentina have signed cooperation agreements with the European Space Agency. Would you like to see the Costa Rican Space Agency do the same?

Definitely. We are working to establish the Agency as a trustworthy partner to promote cooperation programs and agreements. We will explore these opportunities, looking to enhance the capacity building and knowledge creation skills from the government, our educational system and even our private sector. We believe that in these kinds of initiatives, public-private partnerships are necessary to generate relevant results.

Costa Rica was offered by NASA to sign the Artemis Accords but so far has not done so.  To date 23 nations have affirmed their commitment to transparent, safe, and sustainable space exploration by signing.

The Artemis Accords are being reviewed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as they are the government entity in charge of validating the international agreements. If approved, it will be the Costa Rican Space Agency who will be able to apply and regulate the proposed cooperation in civil exploration and the use of the Moon, Mars, comets and asteroids for peaceful purposes.

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