Just beyond the Coalsack Nebula, there is a region known as Praea Euq, an uninhabited cluster of stars that most of Elite: Dangerous' explorers only glimpse as they head deeper into the Milky Way. Of the thousand stars, the planets and their countless moons, there is one that holds a very special meaning to one pilot. Right now, its name is ‘Praea Euq WD-T C3-36 B 9 A,’ but in Update 2.4, Frontier Developments will be renaming it to 'Miola' to memorialize João Pedro Miola. He was 19 years old when he died last month from leukemia.
"Everything happened so fast," Felipe tells me over Skype from Brazil. João was his best friend. "Around a month ago, we had gone out to one of our friend’s homes and we ended up cooking bacon sandwiches and watched movies… and now this."
Thick as thieves
As we continue to talk, 19-year-old Felipe regales me with stories of João Pedro and the friendship they shared. "I’ve always been socially awkward and extremely shy so it’s been very difficult for me to make friends," Felipe says, adding that he was bullied constantly throughout school. But João Pedro was different—gregarious and stubborn. "He was that sort of person that didn’t take anything for granted. When he was mad about something, or happy, or sad, he would show it. He would fight for what he believed in, no matter what."
"We met one day when I overheard him discussing with the school officials about how difficult it would be to evacuate the school in the case of an emergency, because that’s totally something that a 15-year-old would discuss with a school official," Felipe laughs. "I thought it was incredibly interesting and decided to talk with him about that."
The two immediately hit it off when they both realized they shared of a love for science, aviation, and space. "We would always discuss things like war—like whether the ME-09 was better than the Spitfire in World War 2. You know, the usual geeky stuff," Felipe chuckles. "We’d always be Skype chatting and playing videogames until 3 am. His parents didn’t exactly like that."
Before long, João Pedro’s boisterous nature began to rub off on Felipe. He tells me that they started a study group to help one another as their school slowly began to fall apart and teachers went on strike. Before long, Felipe and João Pedro had 20 students attending their study sessions. João Pedro helped Felipe open up. "Around four years ago, I wouldn’t even be able to do this interview that I’m doing with you right now," he admits. "It’s just so difficult for me."
While Felipe tells me his specialty was history and geography, João Pedro excelled at math and science. In fact, he was studying to get into one of Brazil’s premiere universities with hopes of becoming an aerospace engineer. "He was studying very hard for it," Felipe says. "We’d be in Skype chat playing videogames while he was solving calculations preparing for the test. He used to fantasize about joining to NASA or SpaceX, building up some sort of curriculum there and coming back to build Brazil’s space program from the ground up."
Unsurprisingly, Kerbal Space Program was one of João Pedro’s favorite games. "He always wanted to design rockets and was always watching tutorials on the internet. When we last spoke, he was working on a twin-engine fighter that was similar to an F-22," Felipe says.
While João Pedro loved Kerbal Space Program, Felipe’s game of choice was Elite: Dangerous. Looking through his Reddit account, it’s full of stunning photos he submitted to the Elite subreddit. But as much as João Pedro loved the game, he wasn’t able to afford a computer that could run it. Instead, he’d get Felipe to send him pictures and lived vicariously through his adventures around the Milky Way.
João Pedro was saving up money to buy a better machine to join Felipe when he started experiencing symptoms of leukemia. "He had been feeling ill for a period of about two months," Felipe tells me. "He did lots of karate, so he had been feeling lots of muscular pain and had been having these small headaches. His parents thought maybe he just needed some glasses—it just seemed like nothing alarming."
"A month ago, he felt very ill and went to the hospital," Felipe continues. "The doctors identified something wrong with his bone marrow, and they decided to send him to a hospital in Brazil—the best place he could go. He flew out about a month ago on a Monday and spent the entire week there. He was diagnosed with leukemia."
The diagnosis was a shock to everyone—especially to Felipe. "I was really concerned, I sent out a message to him and he took much longer than usual to respond. I asked his brother how he was, and he said he was feeling sad and just wanted to come back home so we could all go to the Jedi convention happening in June."
Among the stars
During the week that João was in the hospital, Felipe passed the time by playing Elite: Dangerous. As he ventured further out from the bubble of human civilization and into uncharted space, he stopped in one system and initiated a scan for undiscovered planetary bodies. When the scan came back, he discovered a single planet orbiting at the furthest distance away from the binary stars that dance around each other at the system's center. Venturing out to see the planet and its moon with his own eyes, Felipe made his first discovery after hundreds of hours of playing. No one had found this planet or its moon in the years since the launch of Elite: Dangerous.
While the planets and moons of Elite: Dangerous are frequently drab brown orbs. The moon Felipe discovered was a gorgeous ice moon laced with streaks of faint coral. "I always thought the beige moons were so boring because the land in my country in basically beige," Felipe explains. "It’s something I see all the time. This moon, however, I’ve never seen anything like it. It is beautiful. I love the contrast between the colors. I thought João Pedro would like to see it, so I screenshotted the exact specs: the mass, gravity, and everything."
At the time, Felipe had no idea how serious João's condition had become, and getting João Pedro to respond to his messages was becoming more and more difficult. "He wasn’t in a very positive state of mind during that stay," Felipe says.
And then, while in a college class on the 8th of May, Felipe received a text from João Pedro's brother. "For some reason I opened it and I read it, and I broke down there, during class, in front of everyone," he says somberly. "I went to go see his half-brother and he explained everything. It turns out that João Pedro's kidneys stopped working and he had to be put on machines to survive. On that day they decided to inject him with the first dose of chemotherapy, and his heart couldn’t take it and it failed."
"It’s been so hard, you know?"
Losing your best friend is a kind of grief that's impossible to describe, Felipe says. It's not just losing them in the present, but the future too. "We had so many plans. I bought a Jeep and there’s a lot of waterfalls around my home, so we planned to round up our friends and go there. I had even thought about making him a godfather to my children after I found a girl and got married. But that never happened, and all I have left is dealing with the grief."
After João Pedro's funeral, desperate for something to distract him, Felipe tells me he booted up Elite: Dangerous. There, in his bookmarks window, he found the moon he had hoped to share with his best friend only weeks ago. With no way to rename the moon on his own, Felipe decided to reach out to the Elite: Dangerous subreddit to share João Pedro's story. "A lot of people took notice and they sympathized so much, and a lot of them took it upon themselves to contact Frontier Developments," he explains, his voice sounding a little warmer. "I realized there are a lot of good people in this world, even though I’m very reclusive and don’t talk to a lot of people. It made me feel really good."
Days later, Frontier Developments contacted Felipe directly to extend their condolences and inform him that they would rename the moon to 'Miola' in João Pedro's honor. I reached out to Frontier Developments and they confirmed the change, saying that it is planned for the upcoming 2.4 update, which doesn't yet have a release date and might not arrive until next year.
Though it might take some time before the change is made, Felipe doesn't mind. "It'll take longer, sure, but I can't believe it's actually happening."
For him, it's a tiny measure of comfort in a world turned upside down by his loss—one tiny moon in a galaxy filled with billions of them. Felipe tells me that once the change is made, he plans on showing João Pedro's family. "I know he would’ve done the same for me if our roles had been reversed. He probably would have named a real moon after me, because there’s no way he wasn’t going to space," Felipe says with a fond laugh.
If you're ever out by the Coalsack Nebula, consider making a detour to Praea Euq WD-T C3-36. You'll need an Advanced Discovery Scanner to find the moon, but the trip is well worth it. With a billion nameless, unremarkable planets in the galaxy, it's worth seeing one that means something.