Brazilian Lt. Col. Marcos Pontes was the first Brazilian to go into space. After being chosen in 1998 by the Brazilian Space Agency and North American Space Agency (NASA) to join the mission, Pontes, who at that time was studying in the United States, moved with his family to Texas. He spent two years spent training at the Johnson Space Center, in Houston.
The trip to the International Space Station (ISS) put him down in Brazilian history. On his website he describes the moment he received the news that he had been selected for the mission. "It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Another challenge, another mission: to carry the Brazilian flag into space for the first time, even sacrificing my own life, if necessary."
The new challenges forced the Lieutenant Colonel to leave aside his dream of becoming a brigadier and to devote himself exclusively to being a civilian astronaut, representing Brazil. In December 2000 he was officially declared to be the first professional Brazilian astronaut and the first from the southern hemisphere to achieve the feat.
Pontes' trip to space was followed with interest throughout Brazil. TV programs and reports run by various media outlets explained the challenges to be faced up to. A Brazilian representative on an international mission exemplified the importance of science, education and professional training to place Brazil among the leading countries in aerospace technology.
Marcos Pontes' career began in 1981 when he joined the Air Force Academy (AFA) in Pirassununga (Sao Paulo), and he graduated as a military pilot in 1984. He continued his studies at various institutions, such as the Tactical and Specialized Instruction Group (GITE), the Santa Maria Air Base, the Accident Investigation and Prevention Center (CENIPA), the Aeronautical Technology Institute (ITA) and the Air Force Academy (UNIFEM). Abroad, besides studying at the Johnson Space Center, he has also attended the Naval Postgraduate School, in California.