Manlawakan

If you missed reading this news, I recommend you take the time to do so.

Before y’all get excited and whining about the absurdity of a country building space rockets when it can’t even handle flooding after a light summer rain, know that it’s not about space rockets. Well, not yet, anyway.

The bills ( House Bill 3637 and Senate Bill 1211 ), known as the Philippine Space Act of 2016, seek the creation of the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA). This government agency would be tasked with providing for the country’s space technology-related needs, from weather imaging to telecommunications.

“The PhilSA would be responsible for developing space science technology policies, implementing research and education programs, and establishing industry linkages between private and public sector stakeholder,” the Senate bill’s explanatory note read.

“The PhilSA would be our country’s representation for international space agreements and arbitrations,” it underscored.

Science, Bitch!

In other words, the proposed PhilSA would be a kinda of focal point for research and development for space related tech, like building satellites and finding everyday applications for existing space technology – where do you think cordless power tools and smoke detectors come from? Check out this post abut everyday household objects invented by NASA. Number 11 on that list is particularly relevant for a predominantly agricultural like ours, yes?

Now imagine having our own NASA-esque agency focused on coming up with stuff like that.

Or at least, that’s what the potential is. Reality, however, might be a different not-quite-so-rosy thing. Nevertheless, having an agency mandated to do this is a big step in the right direction. As with most everything else, whether or not we screw this opportunity up is entirely up to us.

LAM ANG

Having said that, I cannot help but be excited about where this can all lead, assuming it gets done right. Rockets, man! Rockets! And my favorite thing about rockets is naming them.

NASA uses a lot of names from mythology, mostly because of the resonance such names give. The Atlas rocket, for instance, has a name that evokes its primary role as a carrier of various payloads and the fact that, at its creation, it was the most powerful rocket around. Atlas, of course, was the name of the Titan who, in Greek myth, holds up the universe on his shoulders.

In the same vein, the Ares rocket is named after the Greek god of war, whose Roman counterpart was named Mars. Obviously, the Ares rocket family will be the principal workhorses for humanity’s push to reach the red planet. France’s Ariane rocket family on the other hand is produced by Arianespace, a private firm whose company vision reads: “To put space at the service of a better life on earth.” In Greek myth, Ariane was the princess who laid out the string that helped Theseus find his way out of the Labyrinth after killing the Minotaur. You could say that the mythological Ariane was at the service of Theseus so that he could live a better life, rather than dying, lost in the labyrinth.

And then there was the Pegasus rocket which, like its namesake mythical flying horse, had wings.

This is a lovely tradition, although it is by no means an ironclad naming convention. Space agencies of other countries – particularly China and India – might follow a different a naming scheme. This is totally to be expected since the Chinese and Indian civilizations are ancient civilations with millenia of culture and history to draw from.

Nevertheless, the fundamental idea of naming space going behemoths after gods and goddesses imbues rockets with the exact kind of aura reflects their function, or motivation, or design while also being inspirational. It is in this spirit that I propose calling the future Philippine made rocket, LAM ANG.

This name is apt for two reasons.

First, in Philippine epic poetry, Lam Ang is a prodigious hero who uses the winds to various effects. In some versions, like another hero of epic Bantugan, he even rides the wind, using his magical shield. Interpreting all these accounts through the filter of modern technology, just like Erich von Daniken and the good people at Ancient Astronauts do all the time, helps one imagine Lam Ang as an ancient Filipino rocketeer. This grounds our modern day rocket firmly in the epic firmament of our native culture; and

Second, if you run the two names together, you come up with LAMANG – the Filipino word for “advantage” or “having an edge over a competitor.” Both these definitions perfectly encapsulate what having a space program will do for the country, doesn’t it?

So, as ridiculously fanciful as it is to be dreaming of rocketry at this time, I am calling dibs on naming the first Philippine rocket.

BANTUGAN

Back to a more serious note, having PhilSA can conceivably pave the way for training Filipino astronauts so we our country can have a shot at participating in international space missions – not just in the mission control rooms but also on the business end of a space-going missile.

Remember when Malaysia sent this handsome young fella, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor to join the International Space Station via the Russian space program?  Given the Philippine President’s recent overtures to Russia, a similar arrangement for the Philippines is not far-fetched. And with PhilSA up and running, that goal will most definitely come within closer reach.

Malaysia calls its astronauts Angkasawan (if anybody can tell me the etymology of that, I’d be very grateful. The comments section is waiting for you). Initially, I wanted to follow the convention of naming spacefarers “someting-naut.” Cosmonauts for the Russians, astronauts for the Americans. Both are compound words, combining Cosmo- and Astro-, both of which reflect the idea of space, with -naut, a root that references sailors. And then, I got this tweet from @jmreyes816

What can I say? I love it! Manlawakan as the Filipino word for astronaut sounds so appropriately grand that it captures the scale of any endeavor that will result in a Filipino knocking about in outer space.

As an alternative though, I might also suggest Bantugan – again derived from ancient Philippine epic poetry. Bantugan was a hero who rode on a flying shield as well, rising up into the heavens. Although I have to admit it might not quite measure up to Manlawakan in terms of resonance (which is a completely subjective standard), I think it might address some concerns about how some invented words can sound so contrived.

Although, as I pointed out, mashing root words together is precisely how living languages grow, I have to admit that “salumpwit” did give me pause.

A Bold Vision

Names aside, the proposal to create a Philippine Space Agency represents a bold and remarkably forward looking vision for the country. Let’s face it, any benefits that can be derived from PhilSA cannot possibly be achieved in the short term. I cannot remember any other initiative that has had so little immediate practical value being pushed by Filipino legislators. For this alone, the bills deserve all the applause it can get.

And that’s pretty much all that needs to be said. We choose to do this thing because it is hard. Because it will focus our attention and energies into a task that will move us forward, so that we are riding the wave of the space age, rather than floundering in its backwash. The fact that we are still struggling with some very basic issues should not be a hindrance to our ability to dream big. Indeed, if we don’t dream big, then we run the risk of forever being mired in the mundane struggle to simply exist; of being weighed shackled to the mean dirt, and to be content with a nation less than magnificent.

I cannot imagine a worse fate for my beloved country.

 

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The featured image was courtesy of Jasper Abibas, GigaHertzzz on DevianArt. 

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