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Growing up in Costa Rica, Franklin Chang Díaz and his friends would put chairs sideways inside a big cardboard box in his backyard and pretend it was a rocket ship. Sitting with their backs to the ground, they would go through the countdown, imitate the launch procedures they’d heard about and, in their minds, visit other planets in search of monsters to discover and adventures to pursue.
Years later, Chang Díaz found himself in a similar position. This time, however, he was seated inside NASA’s Space Shuttle Columbia instead of a cardboard box. And its launch 30 years ago Tuesday—on Jan. 12, 1986—made him the first Hispanic American to go to space.
“It wasn’t that different from what I was thinking as a little kid, that that was how it was going to feel,” Chang Díaz, now 65, recalls. “But that was before the actual liftoff. Before that, the countdown and the procedures seemed very familiar to me. I was mentally totally ready.”
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