Echazarreta said seeing Earth from the edge of space changed her perspective and serves as a reminder of how important it is to care for the Earth.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 24, 2022. It has since been updated.
Katya Echazarreta's life journey is an extraordinary one. From serving fries at a McDonald's when 17 to support her family to traveling to space at 27. She already has a million stories to tell. Echazarreta is now the first Mexican-born woman to travel to space after being part of a group that was carried to the edge of space in a rocket built by Jeff Bezos' "Blue Origin." Echazarreta said that it was an experience beyond her dreams. I've been dreaming about going to space my entire life," she said, as per Blue Origin Instagram page. Even just the drive to get into the rocket was emotional for all of us. I tried picturing what it would be like and I can assure you nobody can truly imagine it until they experience it. Even now, just thinking back, makes my eyes teary. As soon as I looked down at our planet, I had a single tear running down my face. That tear made me realize how important it is to care for our planet and what we have here."
Echazarreta is an engineer and science communicator hailing from Guadalajara, Mexico. She was selected from over a thousand applicants by a nonprofit called Space for Humanity. "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, reported CNN. "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."
She is the second Mexican after Rodolfo Neri Vela, a scientist who was part of NASA's Space Shuttle missions in 1985. "The step we took represents a spark of hope for more than 300 million people. Our greatest wish is that this experience encourages young people and children to dream and to dedicate themselves to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and to build a better future for all," she wrote on Instagram.
Echazarreta was born in Mexico before moving with her family to the United States at the age of seven. She recalled struggling to fit in as she couldn't speak the language. A teacher had even warned that she would have to be held back. "It just really fueled me and I think ever since then, ever since the third grade, I kind of just went off and have not stopped," Echazarreta recalled in an Instagram interview.
Echazarreta worked at McDonald's when she was 17-18 years old and was also the main breadwinner of her family. "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 trajectory of Echazarreta's life has since changed. She is now doing her Master's degree in engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She also worked at NASA's famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. She also has a strong presence on TikTok and YouTube thanks to her short clips on science matters. She has more than 330,000 users on TikTok and is also a presenter on the weekend CBS show "Mission Unstoppable."
She is determined to become a role model for those in her community. "Throughout my journey in engineering school, I was very aware of the lack of women in the field. This was very difficult for me because I did not have many people I could ask for advice regarding several topics, such as the implicit biases we face on a daily basis. I've been given the opportunity to help guide those girls and women who, like me, are looking for someone with experience in what they are going through. Through honesty about the difficulties and encouragement, I hope to be able to help women be better prepared for their experience as a woman in STEM," she said on her website.
Echazarreta was part of the fifth such group carried to the edge of space by "Blue Origin." Most of the passengers paid an undisclosed sum to book a seat on the rocket. Space for Humanity aims to send "exceptional leaders" to space and offer them an exceptional view of Earth, which is believed to give them a new perspective on life itself. Dylan Taylor, a space investor who founded Space for Humanity, chose Echazarreta for the program. "We were looking for people who are doing really great work in the world already and people who are passionate about whatever that is," said Rachel Lyons, the nonprofit's executive director.