Come next summer, Chino Roque will be on top of the world. Which isn’t to say he hasn’t been already. In a search launched by AXE last year, Chino bested 28,000 applicants and snagged a seat on the first civilian flight to space. After five days of aerobatic, gravity-seizing training at the AXE Apollo Space Academy’s (AASA) Space Camp in Orlando, his was among 22 names called by astro-icon Buzz Aldrin, head of the AASA judging committee.
It’s beyond-your-wildest-dreams territory for a CrossFit coach with aspirations to become a pilot. Consider it the culmination of all his years staring up at the stars, and more recently, climbing Mt. Pulag, in search of “a different perspective.” It’s certainly what he’ll get when he boards the XCOR Lynx space plane next year, becoming the first Filipino to travel to space.
B/BLOG sits down with Chino to talk Top Gun-inspired flight, space sickness, and a few guilty earthly pleasures the 23-year-old still indulges in.
How are you preparing for the epic trip?
I tend to do what I’ve been doing even before I went to Space Camp. I try to have at least five CrossFit trainings in a week, four or three bikram yoga sessions in a week, and then maybe three football games at night. I just try to mix up my training regimen and stay active.
Now where exactly does the space plane go?
Well, the spacecraft or the Lynx as they call it will be launched from Nevada. There are two launch pads: Nevada and Curacao. To be exact, it’s called a sub-orbital flight, so just right under the satellites. It’s very similar to where [film] Gravity takes place.
Given that disastrous movie, are you at all hesitant about the trip?
No, actually I’m very excited about the trip. Most of my nights, I sit down wondering how it’s gonna be, what the first thing I’ll say will be. Sometimes I even get the jitters just because I’m too excited. I keep playing scenes in my head, so what I’m doing now, though, is just trying to stay calm. Instead of getting ahead of myself, just trying to live one day at a time.
Based on the simulations you experienced at AASA, what does space feel like?
One would be the centrifuge, which simulates hyper-gravity. You’ll be spun faster and faster. That will very much simulate the landing procedure that we’ll be doing. Second to that was the flight simulator through a fighter jet, which did some maneuvers that will be similar to the Lynx. A very sharp takeoff pulling up, then a very sharp stall going down, followed by a corkscrew maneuver. Basically, the aircraft is going to be spiraling down. That simulates around three to four Gs, which is very small compared to the spacecraft. But what’s mostly interesting is the zero gravity plane. We got to ride a Boeing 727, which was padded in all corners. We were made to do some exercises: just have some fun, goof around inside a plane that goes on to parabolic flights—basically up and down. You’re riding waves: at the top of the wave, there’s no gravity, at the bottom, there’s two Gs, meaning twice the gravity.
What happens to your body then?
Most of those who were riding the zero gravity plane did feel sick simply because of the sudden change in the pull of gravity, zero to 2Gs. So your body’s not used to that. Imagine being seasick but on a plane. I guess I was one of the lucky ones. I really held on to my stomach.
I can imagine one small error can really screw things up when you’re up there.
Yeah, to put it shortly, it’s not a routine flight, simply because we’ll be the first civilians to go to space. I guess the way the astronauts coined it is that space is actually not meant for human beings. Getting there, staying there, and being there is already much of a risk.
Are you ready to die if something goes wrong on the mission?
I’m very optimistic about my chances. I’m always trying to look at how I’m going to get around things, but if something does happen to me and there is actually no way around it, yes. I guess at this moment I’m ready. Or maybe when I get there, I’ll be ready.
What are some accomplishments you’re extremely proud of? Ones that pop into mind right now?
Well, big accomplishments for me would probably be graduating college. It’s my way of giving back to my parents, who really worked hard just to get me to a good school, just to teach me the right values, even commit to my hobbies and interests. I was very lucky to be a CrossFit coach. I started practicing CrossFit after my UAAP football with DLSU and loved it—the work I do on a daily basis, the people I get to help. I guess for now, the whole situation of winning or being the first Filipino astronaut is of course the biggest for me.
Any fun stuff you’ll be doing in zero gravity?
I don’t know if I can name them yet but there are cool proposals that have been given to me by peers and some people interested in bringing some stuff for me in space. Of course, there’d be something related to maybe football and CrossFit. Probably a cool gadget I can try out in space.
What’s the next frontier for you after space travel?
Well, right after I got back from Space Camp, I decided to actually pursue my dream of being a pilot. That was my dream after being an astronaut when I was younger. It always fascinated me how those big ships or big things get from one point to the other just by flying. I found it really cool just watching Top Gun and all those movies. Right now, I’m already starting my student’s pilot’s license and pretty soon, by the time of my space flight, I’ll be a private pilot, or even a commercial pilot.
When you were younger, what was the moment you realized that up there was where you wanted to be?
I always wondered, always just stared up thinking what it would be like to stare back at earth. Sometimes it seems so general just seeing pictures of stars, but if you think about it, what if you were able to see them without clouds? What if you were able to see the sun just suspended out there, slightly larger—or the moon in a different point of view?
So astronomy has always been a big thing for you?
Not exactly astronomy but that different point of view.
When you’re here, on earth, do the shenanigans of people your age—parties and whatnot—bore you?
There was a part of me that was that party guy, just looking for things to do, socializing. But maybe right after college or when I started working, I started realizing that there are things that I really want to do. I climbed Mt. Pulag twice in a matter of two years. I’ve tried to do everything and anything that I can do just to have a different point of view. It’s not that I don’t like being around people or being here but there’s always this small thing in me that I just have to push myself to be something better, have a better experience.
Any guilty earthly pleasures, though?
Dami eh. Of course I love to go on food trips, so from dinners to movie dates, to late-night munchies. Another guilty pleasure is driving off and going somewhere far, going to the beach. Just kicking back with a beer.