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She Came to the US to Study With Only $300 in Her Pocket — Now She’s a NASA Director For the Mars Rover

For a girl who grew up in Colombia in the 1980s, a science career at NASA may have seemed as likely as setting foot on a distant planet. These days, however, Diana Trujillo is an aerospace engineer.

In fact, he leads a 45-person team in NASA’s lab that is responsible for the robotic arm of the latest Mars rover.

NASA / JPL-Caltech, Perseverance rover landing illustration

How did Diana go from simply dreaming about the cosmos to actually exploring it? That is a story of perseverance that, perhaps, was written in the stars.

Diana, born in 1983, was sure of her passion for science from a very young age. But he doubted how far he would be able to ascend in a field dominated by men. Fate intervened when her father, thinking that having a second language could broaden his daughter’s horizons, offered to send her to live with an aunt in Miami.

He was only 17 at the time, she accepted it.

With only $ 300 to his name, Trujillo accepted a series of cleaning jobs to pass through Miami Dade College. In addition to learning English, he studied aerospace engineering. It was not easy. Sometimes he had to take six buses just to get to class. Other days she was cleaning bathrooms to help pay for her studies. But she didn’t complain.

“I saw everything that was presented to me as an opportunity,” Diana said. CBS News. “I didn’t see it as: ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this job at night, or’ I can’t believe I’m cleaning a bathroom right now. ‘ It was more like, ‘I’m glad I have a job and I can buy food and have a house to sleep in …’ ”.

Then came another moment that changed Trujillo’s life. One of his professors casually mentioned that they were actually acquainted with an astronaut. The realization that she was “one person away from meeting an astronaut” was all it took to further Diana’s career goals.

Trujillo continued with his studies. By becoming the first Hispanic woman to be admitted to the NASA Academy, she did so well that she was one of only two students to receive a job offer from the prestigious institution.

A story of perseverance

While at the NASA Academy, he met robot expert Brian Roberts. Recognizing his potential, he invited Trujillo to join his NASA space robotics research team at the University of Maryland, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2007.

Later that year, he became a team member at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Since then, Trujillo has held many positions in the U.S. space agency, including as a mission leader for the Curiosity Rover in 2014, earning him the nod as one of the 20 most influential Latinos in the tech industry.

One voice for all

Diana hasn’t stopped there. This February, when the Perseverance rover landed on the surface of Mars, it was accompanied by comments from Trujillo in what became NASA’s first Spanish-language broadcast.

PLUS: The inspiring and fun message hidden in the parachute of the Mars Perseverance Rover

She followed that hit by hosting the agency’s first Spanish broadcast, Together we persevere (Together we persevere), which has since raised more than 2.5 million views in Youtube.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Trujillo has won numerous awards in his field, most recently the order of merit from the Colombian Congress Policarpa Salavarrieta.

Encourage others to reach for the stars

Along with her ongoing scientific endeavors, Diana Trujillo continues her mission to lead by example, encouraging women from underserved backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM fields.

RELATED: Honoring NASA’s black astrophysicist whose groundbreaking space telescope is still on the Moon (1939-2020)

If it takes a rocket to break the glass ceiling, so be it. Diana’s own story is proof that beyond that barrier lies a universe of opportunities awaiting anyone who is willing to work hard enough to reach for the stars.

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