The Cuban Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez was the first person from Latin America, and the first black person to fly in space.
Rodolfo Neri Vela, meanwhile, was the first Mexican in space.
Ellen Ochoa, it should be noted, was the first female Hispanic astronaut when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993. Born in the U.S., her paternal grandparents immigrated from Sonora, Mexico.
Dr. Katya Echazarreta, however, is the first female astronaut that is Mexican-born. Aged just 26, in June 2022 she flew a suborbital flight to a height of 106 km aboard Blue Origin NS-21, becoming the youngest American to visit space. Born in Guadalajara, she moved to the U.S. when she was seven years old.
Boost to Local Aerospace Industry
Yet, Dr. Echazarreta has put her space career at NASA on hold to work on a bill in Mexico to amend the Constitution and pass the necessary laws to boost the local aerospace industry.
According to Dr. Echazarreta, private companies like SpaceX or Blue Origin don’t have a place in Mexico without a legal frame regulating, for example, the launch of rockets.
“Mexico lacks the legal base to have an aerospace industry,” said Dr. Echazarreta in an interview at Reuters in Spanish. “Mexico doesn’t have the necessary laws and constitution to launch a rocket from here.”
She continued by saying this is important because it stops progress from the government and the Mexican Space Agency, but also from private businesses that may want to set up something similar to SpaceX, Blue Origin or Axiom Space. However, they can’t do that even if they wanted to.
In August 2022, Dr. Echazarreta received the keys to Mexico City from Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo. In an acceptance speech, the astronaut stated it was important for her to become a role model for people in Mexico.
“For me, it was sad to talk to engineers that studied the same degree as me, and are now fixing mobile phones or washing machines, or dropped engineering and are now paramedics or driving an Uber,” said Dr. Echazarreta. “I understand this reality.”
Featured image: NS-21 Astronaut Katya Echazarreta prior to crew capsule ingress. Katya became the first Mexican-born person to fly to space. (June 4, 2022). Credit: Blue Origin