Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Guadalajara native is first Mexican woman to travel to space

A 26-year-old Guadalajara native has become the first Mexican woman to travel to space, joining a passenger flight Saturday on a rocket built by Blue Origin, an aerospace company founded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Katya Echazarreta, an electrical and computer engineer and online science educator who was born in the Jalisco capital but moved to the United States at the age of seven, was selected from more than 7,000 applicants in over 100 countries as Space for Humanity’s first ever citizen astronaut ambassador, allowing her to travel to space without forking out a fortune.

Space for Humanity is a United States-based non-profit organization that is dedicated to broadening access to space travel.

Blue Origin’s New Shepherd rocket blasted off from the company’s west Texas launch facility Saturday morning and transported Echazarreta and five other passengers about 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface into an area considered the boundary of outer space.

The rocket spent just over 10 minutes outside the Earth’s atmosphere, time that Echazarreta used to study the overview effect, a cognitive change in consciousness reported by some astronauts during spaceflight. The young space traveler, a former NASA employee who took a Mexican flag and photos of her family with her on her voyage, told CNN Business that she experienced the overview effect in her “own way.”

“Looking down and seeing how everyone is down there, all of our past, all of our mistakes, all of our obstacles, everything — everything is there,” she said.

“And the only thing I could think of when I came back down was that I need people to see this. I need Latinas to see this. And I think that it just completely reinforced my mission to continue getting primarily women and people of color up to space and doing whatever it is they want to do,” said Echazarreta, who became the second Mexican to enter space after Rodolfo Neri Vela, a scientist and astronaut who was part of a NASA mission in 1985.

In addition to becoming the first Mexican woman to travel to space, the dual Mexican-United States citizen became the youngest American woman to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. The journey was the culmination of a long-held dream.

“Visiting space is a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember,” Echazarreta said last month.

“I am honored to be representing not just Space for Humanity in this mission, but also all of the little girls and women out there who are dreaming of achieving something bigger, those that maybe just need an extra nudge or an example of someone who looks or sounds like them to help encourage them to take the next step towards their dream.”

Echazarreta, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University, told the Associated Press that she was advised to give up her dream of traveling to space when she was a young girl.

“Everyone around me – family, friends, teachers – I just kept hearing the same thing: That’s not for you,” she said.

Now, as a young adult, she is one of only about 600 people who have traveled into space since cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering space mission in 1961. Among that number, fewer than 80 have been women and fewer than 40 have been Black, indigenous, or Latino, AP said.

Mexican parents with young daughters interested in traveling to space will no longer be able to tell them their dream is unobtainable, Echazarreta said. Instead, they’ll have to tell them, “you can do it, too,” she said.

With reports from Reforma, CNN and AP

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