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From Cali To Mars: NASA Immigrant Engineer Diana Trujillo Lives Up To The Perseverance Name

nasa mars perseverance diana trujillo immigrant engineer
Al-Jazeera

On Thursday, NASA landed its Perseverance rover on Mars, adding an exciting new chapter to the exploration of our solar system. But one of the most incredible stories tied to it involves a person who immigrated from Colombia to the U.S. to be part of the story.

Diana Trujillo, who led the team of engineers that created the robotic arm for the Perseverance rover, has an incredible life story that exemplifies the idea of perseverance.”

According to NASA’s own bio on her, Trujillo “paid her way through college by cleaning houses,” but there’s even more to her story.

WFLA-TV, in an August 2020 story on her, noted, “At the young age of 17, she made her way from the violent streets of Cali, Colombia, to the United States with only $300 in her pocket. She worked many jobs including that of a housekeeper to pay for an education in engineering at the University of Florida.”

“With help from tutors and mentors,” it continued, “she applied to the NASA Academy, and to her surprise, she was accepted. Trujillo then joined NASA as an engineer in 2008.”

As she commented in the story, “My dream of working for NASA not knowing English sounded very ridiculous and out of place, but I held onto it.”

“How the dream is going to evolve is going to change but the dream doesn’t change. And the dream doesn’t change if you hold onto it and you have the perseverance to maintain it.”

Trujillo and her team toiled for two years to create the seven-foot-long robotic arm, working long days and nights throughout the process to perfect what will be a crucial element in the rover’s work on the Red Planet.

The Perseverance rover, according to the New York Times, “carries scientific tools that will bring advanced capabilities to the search for life beyond Earth.” The car-sized rover “can use its sophisticated cameras, lasers that can analyze the chemical makeup of Martian rocks and ground-penetrating radar to identify the chemical signatures of fossilized microbial life that may have thrived on Mars when it was a planet full of flowing water.”

As Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division said in the post-landing news conference, “Now the fun really starts.”

Trujillo took to Twitter on Thursday to celebrate. (Her account name, fittingly, is @FromCaliToMars.)

First, she praised her team, and then added, “I am touched by the messages I have received from around the world. So many of you have shared stories of your daughters, grandmothers, students and more knowing they are a part of this mission now. This is why we explore!” She added the #JuntosPerseveramos hashtag (meaning, “Together we persevere.”)

She then posted a selfie with the observation, “There’s no better way to close the day than sharing a Mars donut” with her team, and then noting although she looks forward to sharing stories from the mission in both English and Spanish soon, she’s also needing to catch up on a bit of sleep first.

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Written by Phil West