Latinas have often shown that the sky is the limit — and Katya Echazarreta proved it, literally. Echazarreta took to the air early Saturday aboard the New Shepard spacecraft, becoming the first Mexican-born Latina to travel into space.
As reported by The San Diego Union Tribune, the 26-year-old electrical engineer and five other passengers lifted off from a pad in West Texas at 6:26 a.m. PDT and arrived at the edge of space about five minutes later, where they briefly enjoyed zero gravity while looking out the large windows.
The suborbital flight ended about five minutes later when the white thimble-shaped capsule gently parachuted down.
Echazarreta, who carried the Mexican flag on the trip, exited the craft shortly thereafter, joyfully patting the hand of a recovery team member as he stepped onto the desert floor near Van Horn, Texas.
Victor Vescovo, Jaison Robinson, Victor Correa Hespanha, Hamish Harding, and Evan Dick were among her fellow passengers.
Katya Echazarreta was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved to San Diego, where she attended San Diego City College. She received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
While growing up in Guadalajara, Echazarreta was warned by many that his dreams of space travel were unlikely.
“Everyone around me – family, friends, teachers — I just kept hearing the same thing: That’s not for you,” Echazarreta told The Associated Press.
Still, the young woman didn’t give up.
At 17, Echazarreta was the primary breadwinner for her family on a McDonald’s salary, CNN reported.
“I had sometimes up to four [jobs] at the same time, just to try to get through college because it was really important for me,” she said.
The strong work ethic instilled by her mother, as well as her love of space, mathematics, astronomy, and physics, kept her eyes fixed on her goals.
After graduating from San Diego City College with a degree in electrical engineering, Katya Echazarreta transferred to UCLA, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. During her time at UCLA, the young woman was a fellow at NASA’s JPL.
Eventually, Echazarreta became a full-time engineer and worked on five NASA missions, including Perseverance and Europa Clipper.
While most of her fellow spaceflight passengers paid an undisclosed sum for their seats on the rocket built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, the young Latina was selected by the nonprofit Space for Humanity from a pool of thousands of applicants.
The organization’s goal is to send “exceptional leaders” into space and allow them to experience the overview effect, a phenomenon often reported by astronauts who say that seeing Earth from a distance gives them a profound change of perspective.
Echazarreta told CNN Business that she experienced that overview effect “in my 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.”