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Reaching for the stars

Seaview Gardens youth encourages others to go for their dreams

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Sunday Observer staff reporter richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 12, 2014    

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WHILE saying that he may have the time and attitude to change career paths and pursue becoming an astronaut, 25-year-old Dante Djokovic admitted that this step would require a 180-degree turn, and even then, he lacks the funding necessary. He, however, encourages anyone who wants to create space history for Jamaica to go for it.

Djokovic, who has been a legal clerk with a law firm in Kingston since he graduated from Excelsior High School a few years ago, recently represented Jamaica on a three-day stint at Apollo Astronaut Space Academy (AASA) in Orlando, Florida. He describes the experience as "some part awesome, some part life-changing, and some part breathtaking".

He was among more than 100 candidates who represented 60 different countries, "yet we weren't all that different", Djokovic told the Jamaica Observer in an interview recently.

"We bonded, we shared our cultures, and we joked around without any conflict whatsoever."

Djokovic told the Sunday Observer that it's a childhood dream for many to be among the stars.

"We all at one point look to the skies, and wish to be among the stars and the moon during our childhood days. But as we grow, we gravitate to what we can achieve, some become doctors, engineers, police (officers), and nurses," he shared. "To become an astronaut or go to space is deemed somewhat impossible by us.

"Then Axe came along and gave us the opportunity to do the impossible, to scratch off both titles on the list of the great things we have achieved as a country," Djokovic continued. "A chance to create history... someone had to do it and on July 1, 2013, I answered the call.

"And even though I didn't get to go to space in the end, and I won't say I'm not disappointed, but (we can) look at it as (if) we're halfway there," said Djokovic.

The Seaview Gardens resident, who attended both Seaview Gardens basic and Seaview Gardens primary schools, said he believes that "when we are born, we're promised life at the beginning and death in the end; whatever happens in between and however it's lived is up to each man".

"I for one plan on making the most of it while I can, to do the best that I can for myself and, if possible, make a difference for others as well," Djokovic said. "When my time comes, I don't want to have any regrets whatsoever."

He explained how he got to participate in the programme that saw him shaking hands with Buzz Aldrin, one the first men to walk on the surface of the moon, being flown in a plane, visiting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), seeing rockets and shuttles being fitted together, and watching the launch of a satellite light up the evening sky.

"I was at work one evening when I came across an article in a newspaper online stating that Axe Body Spray was keeping a global competition for a chance to go to space and Jamaica was included in the eligible countries," Djokovic reflected, adding, "all you had to do was have your family and friends vote for you.

"Sure, why not," said Djokovic. "Plus it was close to my birthday so I just sent out a message to everyone on my Facebook (page) to not get me any gift chances are I may not like, so just click on this link instead and vote for me."

He was eventually selected to represent Jamaica, but beyond that experience, Djokovic said he is not eligible to be a candidate for NASA.

"Whatever career you choose in life there will be a fixed path that you have to take to get there in the end," Djokovic noted. "To become an astronaut, you have to have the drive and desire from a budding age.

"My love is information technology, and even if I get my bachelor's in any of the several different aspects of information technology, I still would not be eligible to be a candidate for NASA."

According to Djokovic, a Bachelors' degree is required in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics from an accredited institute.

"I am on none of those paths," he said, adding that Jamaica is not a part of the countries that make up the Space Agency.

"You have to become an American citizen as well," Djokovic continued. "Honestly, if I was already on that path, I would further pursue that dream. I have the time, I've proven that I am mentally and physically capable to do so, but not the funding to do a whole 360 degrees and start anew.

"But if anyone or organisation out there wants to be a part of making Jamaica's space history, [they] can start be visiting http://xcor.com/flytospace," Djokovic offered.

Djokovic, who is tight-lipped about his last name, offering only that he plans on giving an answer surrounding his name sometime in the future, and that when he does, he does not plan to hold any details back, told the Sunday Observer that he remains motivated through the different stories shared by other Jamaicans on the local television programme Profile.

"I watch Profile and listen to the success stories of the various guests telling of the hardship they have to overcome by being stubborn, persistent and determined, just to be where they are today," Djokovic stated.

"They never gave up on what they wanted to become and they motivate me to never stop trying to become a better person, no matter where you're from," Djokovic said. "You can be whatever you want to be."

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