“Believe in what you are doing and keep trying”

An interview with Oscar Ojeda

By Natalia Indira Vargas-Cuentas


Está leyendo la versión inglesa de esta entrevista. Por la versión española, haz clic aquí.

“Things that are worth it, will not be easy, and to just keep trying.”, says the Regional Coordinator of South America about the most important lesson that he has learned so far.

Oscar, tell us a little more about your city and/or country
I’m from Bogotá, Colombia, a big city high in the Andes. The weather is crazy, which I love. It is surrounded by mountains to the east, and plains to the west. Because of the different altitudes, and being close to the equator, Colombia has all sorts of crops, especially fruits.

What is your favorite place in the city and why?
The National University of Colombia is the place where I spent most time and where I had the opportunity to develop professionally. Besides, it is located in a very nice place surrounded by mountains, and you can see different views of the city and the sunsets.

When and how did you discover your passion for outer space?
It has been a part of me for all my life, there was no epiphany moment, I just knew that I was in love with space, and that I would do anything to be part of it.

And what did your family and friends think about your passion for space?
I’m very fortunate in that aspect, because they always supported me and I discovered with my friends that I could somehow transmit that passion for space to them.

What was your greatest dream when you were a child?
It’s the same as I have right now, to be able to go to space.

And what place in space would you like to go to and why?
There are many places, for example I would like to be in low orbit to have the opportunity to see the Earth every day, but I think the main objective is Mars.

So for you the main objective is Mars, why is that?
Yes, because the objective is challenging enough to grow our capabilities.

What do you think are the technologies that should be developed in the coming years to be able to go to Mars?
I believe that everything that has to do with the welfare of the human being, beyond their survival, but also their quality of life in extreme conditions.

What is your main motivation?
Life is a personal journey, so I think that searching for happiness, and enjoying every day, is what I wake up to.

Who do you most admire and why?
That’s a long list, especially in terms of personal and professional aspects. But in general I admire people that stand for what they believe, fight for their dreams, and are crazy enough to aim to change the world.

What is your field/career and why did you choose it?
I’m a mechanical engineer, and currently I’m studying my Masters in Aerospace Engineering. My focus is on human spaceflight, and I like it because it’s a vastly interdisciplinary field, with several challenges to overcome, and not only has applications in space, but it can also improve the quality of life for humans on Earth.

What is the greatest accomplishment that you have obtained thanks to your profession?
I would say founding the Aerospace Research and Development Group at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Because of the potential of it to reach people and to generate academic research in Colombia.

Can you tell us a little bit more about how this initiative was born?
Since I entered the university I knew I wanted to work in aerospace, but I did not find a space to develop this initiative from the academic side, therefore with a group of professors and people with the same interest, thanks to the support of the university we founded a student group in which we started to develop rocketry projects and outreach events to create that culture in the university.

What limitations have you encountered throughout your professional career? How have you overcome them?
Being from Colombia, a country with very little aerospace activities, has two challenges, the first one is people believing that pursuing this dream as a professional career is doable and worthy, and also finding the opportunity to work on the field. I would say that I have overcome them by aiming to be the best version of myself, and working as hard as I can.

What is the most important research or mission you have done so far?
I would say the analog experiences at the Mars Desert Research Station, not only because of the results themselves, but also for the outreach opportunities, and the impact they had on others.

In what years did you perform these analog missions? Could you tell us an anecdote?
I was in two missions, one in January 2018 and the other in January 2019, the two missions had entirely Latin American crews. It was a very interesting and valuable experience, and as anecdote the fact of cooking with dehydrated food was very interesting, although it was necessary to be very creative.

Which other countries were represented in both missions?
In the first rotation I was with Peruvians and Mexicans, and in the second rotation we were all Colombians.

What do you think is the hardest thing about studying abroad?
Leaving your comfort zone, and what is known to you, and getting to know and live in a different culture — but the good things outweigh the difficulties! I have returned, and it is great to be able to share all the different experiences and knowledge I’ve gained.

What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?
Things that are worth it will not be easy, and to just keep trying.

How and when did you start volunteering with SGAC?
I started working on 2015, at the first SA-SGW, which was held in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In what year did you decide to apply as Colombia’s NPoC and why?
I applied at the end of 2016 and I saw it as an opportunity to develop events and volunteer activities in Colombia, as well as having the possibility of more people being interested in being part of SGAC and knowing the benefits of the organization. All of our work in the country was reflected last year when the SA-SGW was hosted in Bogotá.

What could you tell us about your role as Regional Coordinator of South America?
We are growing, we already have the presence of SGAC in 90% of the region, besides that we have a very motivated team, very active and with many ideas and projects. For me it is a very interesting opportunity to work for my region.

What do you consider to be the greatest benefits that SGAC has provided to your academic, professional and personal formation?
Being able to interact with wonderful and talented people from all around the world, that are awesome as persons and professionals. Getting to see their perspectives and be able to compare and improve mine.

Could you mention three of your qualities?
I would say that I’m perseverant, creative and dreamer.

What is your most important advice for students and young professionals to pursue their goals?
Keep trying. You will most likely face rejection, failed results, bad days. But deep down, believe in what you are doing, and get off the ground, and keep trying.

How would you like to see the South American region in the near future?
I would like to see South America engaging with the future of space. We have a great potential in terms of human talent and natural resources, and also a great potential to benefit from space applications. Working together and believing in ourselves, we can help shape what space exploration will look like for decades to come. We can not leave ourselves out of the global discourse.

Oscar Ojeda is a mechanical engineer and is currently studying a master in aerospace engineering. He is the SGAC Regional Coordinator for South America.