ATLANTA — Katya Echazarreta grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and was encouraged to give up her dreams of traveling to space.
“Everyone around me — family, friends, teachers — I kept hearing the same thing: That’s not for you,” Echazarreta told The Associated Press.
Echazarreta, 26, will prove them wrong on Saturday when she joins a diverse international crew boarding the fifth passenger flight of Blue Origin, the space venture of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
She and five others, including Victor Correa Hespanha, the second Brazilian to fly to space, will take off for a 10-minute flight from Texas atop a New Shepard rocket. The automated flight should reach an altitude of about 66 miles (106 kilometers) before heading out into the desert.
Echazarreta, whose flight is sponsored by the nonprofit Space for Humanity, will be the first Mexican-born woman and one of the youngest women to fly to space. She was chosen from more than 7,000 candidates in more than 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 to increase diversity in space travel, which has long been dominated by white males.
Of the more than 600 people in space since Yuri Gagarin’s groundbreaking flight in 1961, fewer than 80 were women, and less than three dozen were black, indigenous, or Latino.
In April, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins arrived at the International Space Station, becoming the first black woman to be assigned a long-term mission there.
Earlier this year, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced the agency’s first-ever equity plan “to identify and remove the barriers that limit opportunity in underserved and underrepresented communities.”
Tabbetha Dobbins, vice president of research and dean of graduate school at Rowan University, serves on the American Institute of Physics task force that focuses on increasing the representation of black students in physics and astronomy. She told The Associated Press that access to space matters no matter how short the journey.
“They’re going beyond the boundaries that most people have crossed, and that’s a big step,” Dobbins said. “It is so important that everyone sees themselves represented. It has a huge impact.”
But Jordan Bimm, a space historian at the University of Chicago, said it remains to be seen whether the commercial “space for all” ethos will materialize.
“True diversity and access is sustainable diversity and access,” Bimm told The Associated Press. “If we want the population of humans to go to space to reflect human diversity on Earth, we need to rethink why we’re going and who has the keys.”
Echazarreta, who is pursuing a master’s degree in electrical engineering after a stint at NASA, said that people from other cultures or other parts of the world “feel that this is not for them just because of where they come from or where they were born, that this is not automatically something they can dream or aim for.”
“I hear that all the time, especially from Latin America,” said Echazarreta, who is delighted to see her family see the launch as it is both their achievement and hers.
With this flight, Mexican parents can no longer tell their young daughters they can’t travel to space.
Instead, she said, they will have to answer, “You can do it too.”