Antonio Paris grew up in Utuado, Puerto Rico, and today he works as a planetary scientist in Florida researching how to survive on Mars. Since Hurricane Maria, he has returned to Utuado ten times and raised over $100,000 in relief aid, bringing water, food, and medical supplies to the people of his community. He’s also finding ways to translate his research on surviving on another planet into the practical matter of surviving here on Earth.
Healing After Hurricane Maria
Published September 26, 2018
Antonio Paris : We're going to have to emigrate from this planet at one point or another. As astronomers, it is our duty to look for the next home.
Onscreen : This is Antonio Paris' mission.
Paris : So my focus in the last couple years is studying the planet Mars so that humans could one day visit and survive.
Once you leave the Earth's magnetosphere, you have no protection from the gamma rays and the radiation from space, which are deadly. So first, can we make it to Mars without getting cancer? And then once we get to Mars, Mars has an atmosphere that's relatively thin, which does not protect us from the radiation hazards. So what do we do?
Onscreen : In 2017, Antonio's questions about survival assumed a deeply personal relevance.
Paris : Hurricane Maria was in mid-September and I was in Tampa, Florida watching the hurricane as it was moving along the Atlantic. I knew it was going to be a bad one. The infrastructure here is horrendous.
With most of my family in Puerto Rico — cousins, uncles, everybody — 24 hours we wouldn't hear anything, 48 hours we wouldn't hear anything.
Onscreen : Antonio's mom wasn't in Puerto Rico either when the storm hit.
Gladys Rivera : We were trying to communicate with our family. But we couldn't because everything was down.
Paris : Then about a week later, I think it was the first text message finally from my cousin said, "Everybody's OK." I was like, "OK, what do you mean by everybody?" He goes, "Everybody's OK." And then it was a big relief. I was like, "OK, everything's OK."
So we're here in Utuado, Puerto Rico, which is the center of the island. Utuado actually means "in between mountains." It's just one big valley.
And when the storm came through here, it had nowhere to go. It's like one big funnel. This terrain here is mostly sand, and when we get a lot of rain and you've got 150 miles per hour winds, the homes were just washed away throughout the night.
Onscreen : In the year since Maria, Antonio has traveled from Florida (where he lives) to Utuado (his hometown) ten times.
Paris : You had tons and tons and tons and tons of debris, mud, human waste from the destroyed homes that basically made this water undrinkable.
This is enough water for 20 families for today. That's the goal. Give them a case of water.
Onscreen : In the last year, Antonio has raised over $100K, and distributed hundreds of cases of water, food, and medical supplies.
Paris : Alright, let's go give out this water.
I grew up here in Utuado in the 80s and 90s. I remember, I think I was 10 years old. I was with my buddy. We used to dress up as army and we would go camping up in the mountains. And I was not too far from here looking up at the stars and I saw my first meteor shower.
It was like fireworks. I'm in awe. I thought that was probably one of the coolest things in the world.
From that point forward, I knew I wanted to be a scientist.
Rivera : He talked about the stars and other things. All of it was already in his heart. So beautiful.
Paris : That right there behind the trees, that is Mars. And this is what I call the parade of planets. So if I go this way to over here, that's Saturn. We can't see, oh there it is. And that is Jupiter. So if I straighten them up in a line, that's the path around the sun, that is the orbit around the sun, which we call that the ecliptic, so that's pretty cool.
Onscreen : These days, Antonio travels to environments on Earth similar to Mars — like the deserts of Arizona and Utah. He's examining how to use the hematite rock to his advantage.
Paris : The great thing about this hematite, it protects you from the radiation. So if we can build igloos, huts, and complexes where the astronauts can live in and be protected, then their survival increases.
Onscreen : But making it off of Earth will depend on more than special rocks.
Paris : We're not going to survive on any other planets in the solar system as a species if we don't take care of each other here. It's just not going to happen, period.
I drop off water, I don't ask any questions, I don't ask for any money, and I just move on to the next house.
Emotionally, yeah, this is hard for me, especially seeing my people suffering from all this.
Rivera : These are my people without power, without water, without a home. It's very sad. He raised money to help this community, my people. It's a beautiful thing — I didn't tell him to do it. This was his decision.
Paris : I feel glad that if I can just help one person and make them smile for a couple hours, I think for me that's a big success.
So when I saw what happened in Puerto Rico, it was more than just, "that's my island." I saw it as these are human beings. We're all on the same little bubble on Earth.
- Digital Producer
- Ari Daniel
- Director of Photography
- Michael Rivera
- Production Assistance
- Editorial Review
- Julia Cort
- © WGBH Educational Foundation 2018
- (main image: Shutterstock)
- © WGBH Educational Foundation 2018