Artemis Landing and Recovery Director Liliana Villarreal - Nasa daily picture for September 15 (2023)

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Liliana Villarreal, Artemis landing and recovery director with Exploration Ground Systems (EGS), stands in front of the Crew Module Test Article (CMTA) at the turn basin in the Launch Complex 39 area at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

“From an early age, I wanted to be an astronaut. I remember going to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center when I was 7 on a family trip, and we got to see the rockets in the Rocket Garden and learn all about the Moon landings. I had no idea that humanity had ever been in space, much less landed on the Moon. When my family moved from Colombia to the United States when I was 10 years old, I remember thinking, ‘Maybe I have an opportunity to work in the space industry when I get older now that I live here.’

“Back then, we didn't have Google, so I went to the library because I wanted to find out, ‘How do you become an astronaut?’ And I remember looking through the encyclopedias that they had and looking at the current astronauts that were on the books and their bios — in particular, the females, because if they could do it, maybe I could. A lot of the astronauts had aerospace engineering as their degree, but a lot of them were also military pilots. So, I figured, OK, I'm going to try to do both routes and see if I could get in, and from that day on, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. Unfortunately, my path as a military pilot ended the moment that I failed my driver’s permit vision test at 15 years old. Back then, the military would only accept people with perfect 20/20 vision.

“I kept applying for jobs [at] Boeing because I knew they were working on the International Space Station, and I'm like, ‘I need to work for NASA, this is my path in.’ And I just pestered those guys down in Florida, and one of them eventually called me after I moved back and said, ‘Hey, we have a job. Would you like to interview?’ And I'm like, ‘Of course!’ And I remember my first day coming into Kennedy Space Center and seeing the Vehicle Assembly Building. … It was very emotional because I couldn't believe that I was here.

"It's amazing when I get a chance to see the space station fly over. I am very fortunate to be able to say that my hands were on a lot of the hardware that is up there. I’m very proud to have been part of the International Space Station program.”

— Liliana Villarreal, Artemis Landing and Recovery Director, Exploration Ground Systems, NASA's Kennedy Space Center

Image Credit: NASA / Kim Shifflet
Interviewer: NASA / Michelle Zajac

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