The 60-foot-tall suborbital rocket lifted off from Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas at 9:26 a.m. ET and jumped a group of six people more than 62 miles above Earth’s surface — what’s widely considered the limit of space — and them a few minutes of weightlessness before jumping off for landing.
Most passengers paid an undisclosed sum for their seats. But Katya Echazarreta, an engineer and science communicator from Guadalajara, Mexico, was selected from a pool of thousands of applicants to join this mission by a nonprofit organization called Space for Humanity. The organization’s goal is to send “extraordinary guides” into space and allow them to experience the overview effect, a phenomenon often reported by astronauts, who say that viewing the Earth from space gives them a profound gives a change of perspective.
“It still feels like a dream. I still wake up and I’m like, ‘Wow, that was such a cool dream,’ just to remind myself it’s actually happening,” Echazarreta wrote in a letter on Space for Humanity’s website. “I’m still checking my emails to make sure everything’s real!”
Echazarreta is the first Mexican-born woman to go into space and the second Mexican after Rodolfo Neri Vela, a scientist who participated in one of NASA’s Space Shuttle missions in 1985.
She moved to the United States with her family at the age of seven and she remembers being overwhelmed in a new place where she didn’t speak the language, and a teacher warned she might need to be restrained.
“It really turned me on and I think since then, since third grade, I kind of just went off and didn’t stop,” Echazarreta recalled in an Instagram interview.
When she was 17 and 18, Echazarreta said she was also her family’s main breadwinner on a McDonald’s salary.
“I sometimes had up to four [jobs] At the same time, I just wanted to try and get through college because it was really important to me,” she said.
Echazarreta is currently working towards her Masters in Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She used to work at NASA’s famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. She also has a following of more than 330,000 users on TikTok, hosts a science-focused YouTube series, and is a host on the CBS weekend show Mission Unstoppable.
Space for Humanity – founded in 2017 by Dylan Taylor, a space investor who recently took part in a Blue Origin flight himself – selected her for her impressive contributions. “We’ve been looking for people who are leaders in their communities, who have a sphere of influence; People who are already doing really great work in the world and people who are passionate about what this is,” Rachel Lyons, the nonprofit executive director, told CNN Business.
Echazarreta said she was motivated to become a public figure after working at JPL and seeing no other engineers who looked like her.
“There are so many people in this world who dream of the same things that I dreamed of. And yet I don’t see them here. So what’s going on?” she said. “It wasn’t enough for me to have made it and be there. I also had to help bring others.”
On her Blue Origin flight on Saturday, Echazarreta flew alongside Evan Dick, an investor who had previously flown Blue Origin on a December flight and became the first repeat flyer. Other passengers included Hamish Harding, who lives in the United Arab Emirates and is the chairman of a jet brokerage company; Jaison Robinson, founder of a commercial real estate company; Victor Vescovo, co-founder of a private equity investment firm; and Victor Correa Hespanha, a 28-year-old who secured his spot after buying an NFT from a called group The Crypto Space Agency