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Mexican-born engineer pushing for greater diversity in space

ATLANTA ( Associated Press) — Growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, Katya Echzaretta was encouraged to give up on her dreams of traveling to space.

“Everyone around me — family, friends, teachers — I just kept hearing the same thing: It’s not for you,” Ezzaretta told the Associated Press.

Ecazzaretta, 26, will prove them wrong on Saturday, when she joins a diverse international crew aboard the fifth-passenger flight of Blue Origin, the space travel venture of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

He and five others, Victor Correa Hispanha, the second Brazilian to fly to space, will blast off for a 10-minute flight atop a New Shepard rocket from Texas. The automatic flight must reach an altitude of about 66 miles (106 kilometers) before parachuting into the desert.

Echazarreta, whose flight is sponsored by the non-profit Space for Humanity, will be the first woman of Mexican descent and one of the youngest women to fly in space. She was selected from over 7,000 applicants in over 100 countries.

The flight comes as Blue Origin competes with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic for space tourism dollars and efforts aimed at increasing diversity in space travel, which has long been dominated by white men. .

Of the more than 600 people who have gone into space since Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering flight in 1961, less than 80 are women and less than three dozen are black, indigenous or Latino.

NASA Astronaut Jessica Watkins Arrives at the International Space Station in AprilThe first black woman assigned a long-duration mission there.

Earlier this year, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced the agency’s first equity plan “to further identify and remove barriers limiting opportunities in underserved and underrepresented communities.”

Tabbetha Dobbins, vice president of research and dean of the graduate school at Rowan University, is a member of the American Institute of Physics task force, which aims to increase the representation of black graduate students in physics and astronomy. She told the Associated Press that access to space — no matter how brief the journey — matters.

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“They’re going beyond the limits that most humans have gone through and that’s a big step,” Dobbins said. “It’s so important that everyone sees themselves represented. It’s hugely impressive.”

But Jordan Bimm, a space historian at the University of Chicago, said it remains to be seen whether the commercial “space for all” ethos becomes reality.

“True diversity and reach is constant diversity and accessibility,” Bimm told the Associated Press. “If we want the population of people going to space to truly reflect the human diversity on Earth, we need to rethink why we’re leaving and who holds the key.”

Ecazzarreta, who is pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering after a stint at NASA, said people from other cultures or other parts of the world “feel like it doesn’t belong to them, as to where they are from or where they are from.” were born, that it is not automatically something they can dream of or achieve as a goal.”

“I hear that all the time, especially from Latin America,” said Ezzaretta, who is excited to see the launch for her family, citing it as their accomplishment as theirs.

With this flight, Mexican parents can no longer tell their young daughters that they cannot travel to space.

Instead, she said, they have to answer: “You can do it too.”

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Snow Reporting from Phoenix.

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Follow Alex Sanz on Twitter https://twitter.com/alexsanz

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