Three Latina engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California are the 2021 recipients of STEM Awards from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. They will be honored for their significant roles in the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission during the 34th Hispanic Heritage Awards broadcast on PBS Oct. 8, joined by Carlos Santana, Ivy Queen, and others.

NASA JPL recipients are: 

 Christina Hernandez began her work at JPL in the Natural Space Environments group and as mission assurance manager on STABLE (Sub arcsecond Telescope and Balloon Experiment). Her Mars-related work began with impact assessment to keep Mars spacecraft safe during the Comet Siding Spring event. As a payload systems engineer for Perseverance, she has worked on three of its seven science instruments. Her work on the rover’s PIXL (short for Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry) will help scientists hunt for signs of ancient microbial life by taking super-close images of rock and soil textures and using its X-ray spectrometer to identify chemical elements within them.

 Clara O’Farrell, who is originally from Argentina, moved to the U.S. on her 19th birthday to start college. She studied aerospace engineering at Princeton and completed a doctoral degree at Caltech with research on fluid dynamics of jellyfish swimming. After joining JPL in 2013, she began her work on parachutes, aerodynamics, and trajectory simulation for Mars entry, descent, and landing. Her accomplishments as a guidance and control engineer include certifying a supersonic parachute to land Perseverance via supersonic sounding rocket tests.

 Diana Trujillo, an aerospace engineer, is currently Technical Group Supervisor for Sequence Planning and Execution and a Tactical Mission Lead for Perseverance. Born and raised in Colombia, Trujillo immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 17 to pursue her dream of working for NASA. While enrolled in English-as-a-second-language courses, she also worked full time to support her studies in community college and later the University of Florida and University of Maryland. Diana has held several roles for NASA and JPL, including Mars Curiosity Mission Lead, Deputy Project System Engineer, and Deputy Team Chief of Engineering Operations on Curiosity. Trujillo has also been active in sharing the excitement and opportunities of STEM with the public. She created and hosted #JuntosPerseveramos, NASA’s first-ever Spanish-language live broadcast of a major mission milestone (Perseverance landing on Mars), attracting millions of viewers worldwide.

“Congratulations to Christina, Clara, and Diana on receiving this prestigious STEM award,” said Dr. Jim Green, NASA’s chief scientist. “Each of them was integral to the planning, development, and successful landing of our Mars Perseverance rover. Our Mars Perseverance mission will advance NASA’s quest to explore past habitability of the Red Planet. Because of the hard work and dedication of our team, we can now look for past microbial life through the collection of core rock and soil samples and test technologies that will pave the way for future human exploration of Mars. Thank you to the Hispanic Heritage Foundation for their consideration and for this outstanding recognition of our extremely talented, diverse, and inspirational NASA workforce.”

In the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s news release, the organization’s president and CEO, Jose Antonio Tijerino, said, “As leaders in the STEM space, these inspirational Latinas demonstrate the great vision and value proposition our community presents America. These engineers also represent role models for aspiring Latinx engineers in expanding human knowledge and scientific discovery.”

The Hispanic Heritage Awards are produced by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and were created by the White House in 1988 to commemorate the establishment of Hispanic Heritage Month in America. The awards are among the highest honors by Latinos for Latinos and are supported by 40 national Hispanic-serving institutions. The Foundation’s programs focus on education, workforce, and social impact through the lens of leadership.

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