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Mexican-born engineer for more diversity in space

ATLANTE – Growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, Katya Echazarreta was encouraged to let go of her dreams of space travel.

“Everyone around me — family, friends, teachers — I always heard the same thing: This isn’t for you,” Echazarreta told The Associated Press.

Echazarreta, 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 business of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

She and five others, including Victor Correa Hespanha, the second Brazilian to fly in space, will blast off from Texas atop a New Shepard rocket for a 10-minute flight. The automated flight is expected to reach an altitude of approximately 66 miles (106 kilometers) before parachuting into the desert.

Echazarreta, whose flight is sponsored by the nonprofit Space for Humanity, will be the first woman born in Mexico and one of the youngest women to fly in space. She was chosen from more than 7,000 applicants in more than 100 countries.

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

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

In April, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins arrived at the International Space Station, the first black woman to be assigned to a long-duration mission there.

Earlier this year, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced the agency’s first-ever equity plan “to better identify and remove barriers that limit opportunity in underserved and underrepresented communities.” .

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

“They’re going beyond boundaries that most human beings have crossed and that’s a major step,” Dobbins said. “It’s so important that everyone sees themselves represented. It is extremely impactful.

But Jordan Bimm, a space historian at the University of Chicago, said it remains to be seen whether the business philosophy of “space for everyone” will become a reality.

“True diversity and access is sustainable diversity and access,” Bimm told The Associated Press. “If we want the population of people who go to space to truly reflect human diversity on Earth, we need to rethink why we’re going there and who holds the keys.”

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Echazarreta, 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’s not for them, just because of ‘where they come from or where they come from’. were born, that it’s automatically not something they can dream of or aim for.

“I hear this all the time, especially from Latin America,” said Echazarreta, who is thrilled that her family is attending the launch, considering it their achievement as much as hers.

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

Instead, she said, they’ll have to answer, “You can do that too.”

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Snow reported in Phoenix.

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