A former NASA engineer who became the first Mexican-born woman to fly into space now has a one-of-a-kind Barbie doll attesting to her being a role model for the next generation of scientists and explorers.
Katya "Kat" Echazarreta is one of seven female science, technology, engineering and technology (STEM) leaders chosen by Mattel to be immortalized as a Barbie doll in celebration of International Women's Day on Wednesday (March 8). The other honorees include the former chief executive officer of YouTube, the founder of 23andME and Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a UK-based space scientist and science educator.
"STEM is a field where women are severely underrepresented and our hope is that honoring these seven leaders in science and technology will encourage girls to follow their passion in this field," Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and Dolls at Mattel, said in statement. "This International Women's Day, we're proud to continue our work in closing the Dream Gap and reminding girls of their limitless potential."
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The honorees will be featured on Mattel's Barbie role models website and as part of a special episode of the Barbie "You Can Be Anything" digital series. Each of the women have been presented with the doll they inspired. The dolls will not be produced for sale to the public.
"Barbie is dedicated to showcasing women who are role models from all backgrounds, professions and nationalities so that girls around the world can see themselves in careers that might not always seem as accessible," said McKnight.
"Thank you Barbie for inviting me to be a part of the role models campaign!" said Echazarreta in a social media post on Tuesday. "I used to play with my dolls and pretend they were traveling the galaxy!"
Born in Mexico, Echazarreta moved to the U.S. with her family when she was eight years old. She earned her bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) while interning at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. Later, she accepted a position as engineer and worked on five missions, including the Perseverance rover now on Mars and Europa Clipper, which is set to be launched to Jupiter's moon in 2024.
On June 4, 2022, Echazarreta lifted off on a 10-minute suborbital spaceflight on Blue Origin's New Shepard launch vehicle. In addition to being the first Mexican-born woman to cross the boundary between Earth and space, Echazarreta was also the first "citizen astronaut" to fly in a seat sponsored by the non-profit Space for Humanity.
Echazarreta's Barbie doll portrays her wearing her Space for Humanity flight suit, complete with a miniature version of the mission patch designed for her flight.
"Having founded Space for Humanity in 2016, the goal was to democratize access to space and inspire the next generation of STEM students. I never dreamed the logo would grace a Barbie doll, but am grateful the mission has gone mainstream," Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings and a fellow Blue Origin passenger who launched aboard New Shepard in 2021, posted on Twitter.
Currently, Echazarreta is pursuing her master's in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University. She is also helping inspire girls and young women through her TV appearances and on her TikTok channel, where her videos have been viewed millions of times.
Fellow Barbie role model Aderin-Pocock also became known for her appearances on BBC's "The Sky at Night" and "Stargazing" TV shows.
The newly-appointed chancellor of the University of Leicester in England, Aderin-Pocock earlier helped build a spectrograph for the Gemini Observatory in Chile to study stellar populations and helped develop the observation instruments for the European Space Agency's (ESA) Aeolus satellite, which was the first mission to acquire profiles of Earth's wind on a global scale. She also worked on the James Webb Space Telescope prior to its launch.
Aderin-Pocock's Barbie doll has her sporting a purple star-dotted dress and has a telescope on a tripod as an accessory.
"When I was little, Barbie didn't look like me, so to have one created in my likeness is mind-boggling," Aderin-Pocock told BBC News. "It's such an honor to receive this doll that is celebrating my achievements."
Echazarreta and Aderin-Pocock are the latest members of the space exploration and astronomy community to be recognized as role models by Mattel. Previous real-life women to inspire their own Barbie dolls include NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina and astronauts Sally Ride of NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA.
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