NASA Flight Director Diana Trujillo put the Perseverance rover on Mars last month. Not only did it look super cool, but successfully landing a spacecraft on Mars has proven nearly impossible to achieve in human history—oh yeah, and we may soon learn through this vehicle’s work whether we have extraterrestrial neighbors.
And students can thank the Colombian-born Trujillo, the latest entry in their Women’s History Month lessons.
Perseverance’s robotic arm that collects samples from the Martian surface is Trujillo’s design, per CBS News. When future phases of the Perseverance mission bring back those samples to Earth, current grade schoolers could examine them in graduate programs. Current high schoolers could hold similar job titles to what Trujillo has now, or they could at least work on her team.
Those students can and should come from every type of background. With Trujillo leading the way, they can do it a little more easily.
Trujillo says she feels enormous responsibility in her position.
“Every single thing that I do, I’m representing my country, my culture, my heritage, my people, and I have to give my best every single time,” she said. The night sky was what fascinated her, but not necessarily what motivated her, it seems.
As a child, “There is a lot of violence going on in my country, so for me, looking up at the sky and looking at the stars was my safe place,” Trujillo told LatinLive.
Trujillo kept her eyes fixed on that safe place, from leaving her home country as a 17-year-old with $300 in her pocket and unable to speak English, through her early odd jobs in the U.S. cleaning houses while attending school.
It was hard work to put herself through the University of Florida’s aerospace engineering program, but Trujillo says she saw everything as one stepping stone after another. From LatinLive:
“I saw everything coming my way as an opportunity. I didn’t see it as, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this job at night,’ or ‘I can’t believe that I’m cleaning. I can’t believe that I’m cleaning a bathroom right now.’ It was just more like, ‘I’m glad that I have a job and I can buy food and have a house to sleep.’ And so, I think that all of those things make me, and even today, helps me see life differently.”
The Power of Her Presence
Latinas make up only 2% of all STEM professionals in this country. Imagine a Latina kid who digs learning about aerospace but isn’t encouraged to learn more by her social or academic circles. Seeing Trujillo’s rover broadcast the most vivid images of another planet anyone’s ever seen is a big deal. It just is.
Diana Trujillo is transforming more than space exploration and our concept of our place in the universe, she’s changing current students’ lives simply by being a prominent figure in her field. What a great Women’s History Month role model.