From the jungle to the moon with an Emberá

From the jungle to the moon with an Emberá

Jean Maurice Posner 2020-10-14 03:11:30

Strange title, however, the story is even more surprising. In the early 1960s, the United States was engaged in a competition for technological supremacy in the control of space against Russia. After the launching of the satellite Sputnik 1 and the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, it became a priority that Americans could dominate what at that time was called the "last frontier".

The Mercury and later Gemini were pioneer programs developed by NASA. These capsules landed on the Caribbean because of their proximity to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and later changed to the Pacific. However, one of the many technical questions was what would happen if the capsule does not fall into the ocean? how the astronauts would survive if the rescue does not arrive immediately? This is how NASA designed a survival program for different environments where the capsule could fall. The first scenario was in the state of Washington and the second in Panama, due to the military installations and tropical jungle that were in the Canal zone.

The other question was: who? This is how specialists came across Antonio Zarco, a leader or "noko" (in Emberá language), already recognized and respected by his people in the knowledge and survival in the jungle from the Emberá community settled on the banks of the Chagres river since the end of the 50s, when they had emigrated from the depths of Darien. Antonio, with his encyclopedic knowledge of the jungle, was in charge of designing and directing the survival program, training pilots like Neil Armstrong, who became the first human being to walk on the moon.

The program was so successful that it was extended to all pilots of the air force and army. Over time, Antonio received many recognitions for his silent, extraordinary and fundamental work in the space race, such as the Silver Snoopy Award of NASA, the Medal of Honor of the United States Congress and honorary rank of General of the Armies. Today, part of his legacy has been taken by his daughter Natalia, who works at the Rainforest Discovery Center as a local guide.

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