Puerto Ri­can as­tro­naut reaches out to is­land’s kids

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - HEALTH | SCIENCE - By Mar­cia Dunn

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The first as­tro­naut of Puerto Ri­can her­itage reached out to school­child­ren on the hur­ri­canebashed is­land.

Fly­ing aboard the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, NASA as­tro­naut Joe Acaba fielded ques­tions from stu­dents at the Puerto Rico In­sti­tute of Ro­bot­ics in Ma­nati. One stu­dent asked how Puerto Rico looked from space af­ter Hur­ri­cane Maria struck in Septem­ber. Acaba said the first thing he no­ticed was he lack of lights, mak­ing the is­land al­most im­pos­si­ble to see at night.

A boy noted that af­ter the hur­ri­cane, it was dif­fi­cult for some to eat given the lim­ited va­ri­ety of avail­able food. Does Acaba find the lim­ited space menu tough to swal­low?

The menu, while pretty good, re­peats ev­ery week or two and does get mo­not­o­nous, Acaba said. Of course, he said it doesn’t com­pare to such Puerto Ri­can spe­cial­ties as paste­les, stuffed meat pas­tries wrapped in ba­nana leaves pop­u­lar around Christ­mas, and rice with pi­geon peas and pork.

“I’m ready to get home and have a great meal,” he said.

Acaba, a former school teacher, is sup­posed to re­turn to Earth at the end of Fe­bru­ary. He ar­rived at the space sta­tion a week be­fore Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, al­ready reel­ing from Hur­ri­cane Irma.

The as­tro­naut’s par­ents were from Hatillo, Puerto Rico, and moved to the U.S. He was born in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and grew up there but has lots of rel­a­tives on the is­land. Acaba switched be­tween English and Span­ish in an­swer­ing stu­dents’ ques­tions.

The stu­dents were brought to the in­sti­tute from across Puerto Rico for the event.


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