Latinas at the Forefront of
By Christine Bolaños
The world watched in awe as man first stepped foot on the moon in 1969. One day soon, the entire globe will witness man return to the moon, along with the first woman
and first person of color. Then, it’s on to the Red Planet.
Only a few years ago, these feats of epic proportions would have seemed impossible, but scientists, researchers, engineers, and leaders at NASA are working around
the clock to make history once again. At the forefront of these groundbreaking missions are 12 Latinas who each play diverse, but equally critical roles, to ensure
astronauts and spacecraft are ready for these next chapters in space exploration.
They all have a calling to serve a purpose greater than themselves — one that brings humanity together and expands our understanding of our world and the
universe it calls home. They all have endured setbacks and challenges. They all have a deep passion for their missions and an impeccable work ethic that has been
instilled in them by their Latino families.
They have a high regard for Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina astronaut to go to space and lead the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, but are committed to
their common duty of mentoring and nourishing the next generation of STEM leaders because they know the world needs more Latinas at the table.
They all believe if they could realize their dreams of working at NASA, then so can anyone. These are their stories of impact, innovation and heart.
Dr. Adriana Ocampo Uria
Science Program Manager, NASA
Headquarters Science Mission Directorate-Planetary
Science Division, New Frontiers Program
Dr. Adriana Ocampo started climbing up the roof of her home to lay down
with her dog beside her and look up at the stars in the sky at a very early
age. Her sense of curiosity and thirst for knowledge was further fueled on
July 20, 1969, when she witnessed humans set foot on the moon.
“Seeing humans on another planetary surface captured my imagination,” says
Dr. Ocampo, who is originally from Colombia and was raised in Argentina.
She recalls writing a letter expressing her excitement, sending it via the Post
Office with nothing more than “NASA, UNITED STATES,” and somehow, not only did
the letter reach NASA, but someone took the time to respond to her. “That was the
biggest treasure and the greatest confirmation that dreams can truly come true.”
Today, Dr. Ocampo is a Science Program Manager at NASA Headquarters
Science Mission Directorate in the Planetary Science Division. As Lead Program
Executive of the New Frontier Program, each mission with a $1 billion-plus budget,
she oversees the Juno mission to Jupiter, the New Horizons (NH) mission to Pluto
and Arrokoth, the asteroid sample return OSIRIS-REX (which will return a sample
of asteroid Bennu in September 2023), and the Dragonfly mission to fly an
aerobot to Titan (Saturn’s largest moon).
Under her leadership, the Juno mission launched on time and on budget. New
Horizons resulted in the first successful fly-by of Pluto at a time when
so little was known about the planet’s system, since four additional moons
besides Charon, were discovered during the cruise phase to Pluto.
Currently she is Program Executive for the Lucy mission — the first to explore
the Trojan asteroids.
In the 1990s, she identified the location of the crater that caused the
extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago in the Yucatan Peninsula using
remote sensing images. She has an asteroid named in her honor.
Dr. Clara O'Farrell
Mars Entry, Descent and Landing Engineer
Dr. Clara O’Farrell’s life changed when she saw the penguins of Tierra
del Fuego in her native Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were oil spill
survivors and were rehabilitated. A young impressionable child who
happened to visit them with her grandmother, O’Farrell became fascinated
with them and began learning everything she could about penguins, the ocean
and Antarctica. When she moved to the U.S. in 2004, she was introduced to
the arrival of Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity and was hooked
on planetary exploration.
12 www.latinastyle.com LATINAStyle V ol. 27, No. 3, 2021