Ten-year old Ricardo Barriga’s backyard in Pirque, Chile is strewn with a blow-up unicorn, pool toys, a soccer ball and a $3,000 telescope that his parents mail-ordered from Germany.
The budding young astronaut can identify constellations in the austral sky, little-known features of the moon, planets and black holes. He recently started giving $4 lessons to classmates to help them do the same, with hopes of raising enough money to buy himself a space suit, he said.
Barriga counts himself lucky to have been born in Chile, a South American nation known as star-gazer’s paradise, with clear skies, a desert-dry climate and little light pollution.
The Chilean elementary school student came upon astronomy while flipping through the “A-section” of his parents’ encyclopedia and has been hooked ever since, he said.
“It was an encyclopedia with all kinds of information in it,” Barriga said. “My dream is to be an astronaut and also, to have a space suit.”
Barriga’s parents have promised him a trip to Orlando, Florida in the United States, where he hopes to visit NASA’s Kennedy Space Station in nearby Cape Canaveral.
“I thought that if I could become an astronaut I could work for NASA,” he said.
Chile is home to 70 percent of global astronomy investment, thanks to the cloudless skies above its northern Atacama desert, the driest on earth. Within five years, the South American country will host three of the world’s four next-generation, billion-dollar telescopes.