March 14, 2023 by Catherine Stack
SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif.—Electrical engineer, Katya Echazarreta, 26, recently made history when she became the first Mexican-born woman to travel into space. As a Space for Humanity Ambassador aboard the June 2022 Blue Origin flight, she fulfilled a lifelong dream.
“It’s been my life’s goal to reach the space industry and reach space,” she said.
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Katya moved with her family to San Diego at age 7. At that young age, she recalls asking her mother, “What do you think is the hardest thing somebody can do?” and her mother replied, “For you, I think maybe being an astronaut.”
In that moment, Katya decided to someday meet that challenge and travel to space.
Katya recalled how her parents routinely watched “Cosmos,” a public television series created and presented by astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan. The show piqued her interest and fascination with space. As a child, she would look up to the stars and believe she would someday reach them. She dedicated herself to her studies in pursuit of that big dream.
When her parents divorced, she took on additional responsibilities. She helped care for her younger siblings and started a job at McDonald’s to earn some income. Despite working long hours, she never lost sight of her dream. She attended San Diego City College nearby and eventually went on to earn an electrical engineering degree from UCLA.
After college, she accepted an internship at NASA, achieving her first mission of working in the space industry. She excelled in that position and NASA offered her a full-time job as a test lead for the Europa Clipper Ground Support Equipment Group. She contributed to five missions during her time there.
In 2019, Katya heard of a unique opportunity offered by the Space for Humanity nonprofit. The organization sought applications for its first Citizen Astronaut program, which would allow one person to join a six-person space flight as part of a June 2022 mission. More than 7,000 people applied.
Space for Humanity, a non-profit organization, seeks to make space accessible for all by serving “purpose-driven leaders through a sponsored spaceflight experience to create a profound shift in perspective, so that each citizen astronaut returns with a grander perspective to address our most intractable challenges and their solutions.”
According to the organization, the space flight experience gives civilian leaders an opportunity to experience a phenomenon known as the “overview effect.” Astronauts have described it as a cognitive shift that occurs when they glance down at the earth from space. From that unique vantage point, they say, humans recognize that our commonalities far outweigh our differences. The nonprofit hopes that the space trip will empower leaders to make meaningful change in the world.
Katya was selected out of thousands of global applicants, based on her outstanding academic and professional achievements, as Space for Humanity’s first citizen astronaut.
“One of the most beautiful moments out of this whole experience was getting to tell my mom,” Katya shared. She credits her mother’s unwavering support as the driving force that compelled her to continue to work hard and dream big.
“This experience was absolutely incredible,” Katya shared of her moment in space. “You look out the window and see a planet with the most beautiful glow of the atmosphere and you are able to see everything in three dimensions.”
She shared that, as beautiful as planet earth looked from the distance, it also appeared fragile and vulnerable just like humanity itself.
Katya is now working on her master’s degree in electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She maintains a website focused on raising awareness about women and people of color in STEM fields, and she has partnered with McDonald’s as part of its Hacer National Scholarship tour where she will meet with Latine high school students and encourage them to pursue their dreams, including STEM education.
The Foundation For a Better Life and PassItOn believe that Katya Echazarreta is a hero. Her action is a great example of the value of living your dreams. In working hard to fulfill her own aspirations, and reaching for the stars. she has inspired young women and people all over the world to chase their own dreams. Please help us celebrate Katya by sharing her inspiring story.
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