Out Astronaut and Microgravity Flight Contest Winners Announced

Shannon Gatta, a student at the University of Washington who identifies as pansexual, has won the first phase of the "Out Astronaut" contest
Shannon Gatta, a student at the University of Washington who identifies as pansexual, has won the first phase of the "Out Astronaut" contest (Image credit: PoSSUM)

A nonprofit organization has announced the winners of two international contests that support under-represented minorities in science and space.

Shannon Gatta, a student at the University of Washington who identifies as pansexual, has won the first phase of the "Out Astronaut" contest and will soon begin training for a possible spaceflight. (More phases of the contest may take place in future years, depending on how well fundraising efforts go.)

Gatta will receive a grant to attend the Advanced PoSSUM Space Academy at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. PoSSUM (which stands for Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere) is a nonprofit organization that does upper atmospheric and space technology research. Gatta's résumé includes roles as a flight software engineer at NASA, a systems engineer for Ball Aerospace and served in the military, where she was one of the few women in her unit.

Related: Why Aren't There Any Openly Gay Astronauts?

"This is an incredible honor to be selected to be the first astronaut candidate under the Out Astronaut organization," Gatta said in a statement. "Thanks to them, I'm able to serve openly and without apology as a queer woman while training for a research mission to space. I plan to show the world that identifying openly as LGBTQ+ should not be seen as a limitation to success, and crossing the frontiers of space will inspire the community to achieve authentically, and for the world to accept us as we are."

Also, PoSSUM announced today (Sept. 20) that 16-year-old Ivanna Margarita Hernández Ramírez, from Grupo Educativo More of Santa Marta, Colombia, won the first PoSSUM 13 International Microgravity Flight Challenge. This contest invited female-led student teams to propose a flight experiment that would travel on a parabolic flight with Canada's National Research Council. The airplane will fly parabolas that simulate microgravity conditions for a few seconds at a time.

Hernández 's research project, called "Magnetic Force in Microgravity," is examining how Lorentz forces (forces exerted on charged particles moving through electromagnetic fields) control an object's movement in microgravity conditions. Hernández's idea could be applied to create artificial gravity, PoSSUM representatives said.

Hernández  also will conduct two finalists' experiments during the microgravity flight. One involves the separation of water and oil in microgravity (from Escuela Secundaria Técnica N57 in Sinaloa, Mexico), and the other examines energy generation and transformation (from Colegio Interamericano de Guatemala).

PoSSUM plans to have more iterations of each contest. You can learn more about Out Astronaut here and PoSSUM 13 here

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace