Marcos Cesar Pontes (born March 11, 1963) is a Brazilian Air Force pilot and AEB astronaut. He became the first Brazilian and the first Lusophone to go into space when he launched to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz TMA-8 on March 30, 2006. He is the only Brazilian to have completed the NASA astronaut training program, although he switched to training in Russia after NASA's Space Shuttle program encountered problems.
Pontes is one of the most experienced jet pilots in the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), where he holds the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and has flown for more than 2000 hours in 25 different aircraft. In June 1998, he was selected by the Brazilian Space Agency to train in the NASA space program after he acquired a space-related background in the Aeronatical Engineering division of the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (the Aeronautics Technological Institute, or "ITA"), which he transferred to in pursuit of a childhood dream to become an astronaut. He began NASA training in August 1998 and qualified as Space Shuttle Mission Specialist in December 2000.
Initially, Pontes' maiden spaceflight was scheduled to be on a Space Shuttle, where he was to help transport the ExPRESS Logistics Carrier (ELC), the International Space Station's first Brazilian-made component, into orbit. It was postponed due to delays in the completion of the ELC, and budgetary concerns at NASA. During the delay Pontes ran a campaign to hasten the Brazilian government to complete the ELC, and worked on technical assignments in the Astronaut Office Space Station Operations Branch at NASA. His flight was postponed indefinitely when all NASA flights were suspended in February 2003 after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
On September 2, 2005, an agreement which cost about US$20 million between the governments of Brazil and Russia provided for Pontes to train at Star City, near Moscow, to learn about the Soyuz's operational and life-support systems, and to fly to the International Space Station in March 2006. The agreement was signed by the presidents of the Brazilian and Russian space agencies, Sérgio Gaudenzi and Anatoli Perminov, respectively.
On March 30, 2006 Pontes became the first Brazilian and the first native Portuguese-speaking person to go into space, where he stayed on the International Space Station for a week. During his trip, Pontes carried out eight experiments selected by the Brazilian Space Agency. He landed in Kazakhstan on April 8, 2006, with the crew of Expedition 12.
Following the Soyuz mission, Pontes returned to his technical duties for the International Space Station Program at the Johnson Space Center, working with FIESP/SENAI-SP for the development and fabrication of the Brazilian parts for the ISS. Pontes is on stand-by for training for future Brazilian space flights.