From teen immigrant to NASA engineer: How Diana Trujillo is leaving her mark on Mars

Local News

Curiosity and Perseverance are not only the names of those missions, but the character traits that helped launch her into NASA.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As a teen immigrant from Colombia, Diana Trujillo cleaned homes to pay her engineering education at the University of Florida. Now, she’s leaving her mark on Mars.  

It’s a story where the saying “reach for the stars” fits perfectly. Like NASA’s Mars Perseverance mission, Trujillo’s journey to the stars is one that will leave you in awe.  

“My dream of working for NASA not knowing English sounded very ridiculous and out of place but I held onto it and now I’m working on my second mission,” she said. 

Curiosity and Perseverance are not only the names of those missions, but the character traits that helped launch her into NASA. 

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, she applied to the NASA Academy, and to her surprise, she was accepted. Trujillo then joined NASA as an engineer in 2008.  

“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,” she told us.   

In her second mission, it took her team of engineers two years of long days and nights to create the robotic arm for the Mars Perseverance Rover that will bring back soil samples from the Red Planet to learn if there once was life there.  

“Understanding how to use instruments we have never seen before and an arm that is 7-foot long was certainly a challenge but we definitely made it work,” she said.

Trujillo is now caught in a whirlwind of fame as she helps propel Latinas into a space that’s not easily conquered. Her nonprofit, the Brooke Owens Fellowship, looks to encourage girls to explore science and add more women of color to the industry.  

“I didn’t see many Latinas that I could look up to and say I want to be like her, let me follow her, let me read about her,” said Trujillo. 

Now we have her story to inspire us to accomplish our dreams on earth and beyond.  

“If I can do it so can you,” she said.

Trujillo is starting a Twitter campaign to champion other Latinos who are in space exploration and all of their accomplishments.  

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