Katya Echazarreta, the first Mexican-born woman to go to space, reflects on her out-of-this-world impact: 'There were not many Latinos that have taken this path'
27-year-old electrical engineer Katya Echazarreta reveals what it felt like being in space for the first time: “It…feels like a dream still.”
KATYA ECHAZARRETA: I understood at the very beginning that there were not many Latinos that have taken this path. I understood from a very young age and very early on in my career that if I wanted to achieve something like this, something nobody else like me had ever done, then there was a very high possibility that I would have to be that person to start opening up those paths.
Hi. My name Katya Echazarreta, and I am the first Mexican-born woman to travel to space. The experience of being in space is something that is just so absolutely incredible. To be floating in that way, it kind of feels like a dream still. Even though I experienced it and I felt it, still, now, being here on Earth and on the ground, it's kind of hard to imagine it.
I emigrated from Guadalajara, Mexico, with my family when I was about eight years old. I have always been fascinated by space and technology and science, even as a child. I was probably eight years old when I made the choice of eventually going out to space.
I didn't have the money necessary, I didn't have the finances necessary, I didn't have the support necessary to follow this dream and follow this goal. But I wasn't going to let any of that stop me. My career started out at NASA with an internship. And then it got extended three times before my boss finally decided to just hire me as a full-time engineer six months before my college graduation. I was able to start off a very beautiful career at one of the most important space organizations in the world.
So for me, personally, I decided to apply for a mission to space back in 2019. I applied through an organization called Space for Humanity. So this was actually a process that took about three years. 7,000 people from all over the world applied. It was definitely a very scary and stressful experience to go through the selection process, knowing that you have such a real shot and such a real possibility here.
I was able to bring a Mexican flag with me during my flight. And then I also wrote the words "Viva México" on my hand. I really think that this is a gift that I'm able to give to so many different Latinas in the world, but especially to all of the different women in my family. They had to conform to a society that already had written out roles for them. So it definitely felt like finally breaking those cycles.
My mom's reaction was just the sweetest thing that I can imagine. And it is still something that brings me so much joy because she said, "I knew it. I always knew."
I'm currently working very hard to develop a few different space-related projects for Latin America. It's very important for me to start creating those opportunities for people that have not had access to them in so, so long. It is very well known and understood that anyone who wants to follow a career of this kind has to leave their home, their family behind, their culture, their language in order to go and try in a different country that might already have access to those opportunities. So it is my priority at the moment to start creating those.
I've always really understood that dreams are not enough if you're not actually willing to put in the work, especially for those of us that don't have those privileges that we can enjoy. There's always going to be obstacles. There's always going to be barriers. There are always going to be people that tell you that you shouldn't do this and that this isn't for you and that people like you aren't meant to be doing something like this.
But the most important thing is, what do I want? What do I want out of it? And do I really want it that bad? And if you do, and you're willing to understand the hard work that it's going to take and the dedication that it's going to take, but above all, the self-security that it's going to require after nobody believes in you, then that is what's going to guide you.