Meet the Latina NASA engineer developing technology for missions to moon, Mars

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As we approach the end of Hispanic Heritage Month we're highlighting the inspiring story of Ali Guarneros Luna a mother of four who went back to school to make her childhood dream a reality. Today she's an engineer at NASA working on small satellite technology.

Luna is part of the team focused on developing technology for missions to the moon and Mars.

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Luna's curiosity for space was born when she was seven years old.

"My mother used to buy books, encyclopedias. They probably don't exist anymore. I used to come home after school and read them. They had a picture of the space shuttle and I was so intrigued by it that. I wanted to learn about the space shuttle. I later learned that aerospace engineers are the designers," explained Luna.

Fast forward to 2020 and meet NASA engineer Ali Guarneros Luna.

"We focus on developing technology for missions to the moon and Mars," said Luna.

Getting there wasn't easy. At 14 years old she migrated to the U.S. from Mexico with her family.

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At times she felt like a satellite orbiting earth viewing from afar how everyone else succeeded but her. Luna had to grow up fast.

"I was the oldest one of four so when I was in high school and turned 18, my mom told me 'you need to help me,'" said Luna.

Within three months of working and going to high school Luna's mom was laid off. Luna automatically became the sole supporter of her family.

Year's later motherhood changed everything.

When Luna became a single mom of four kids, two with special needs she made an unexpected life decision and went back to college for her master's degree.

"I made a plan I saved some money for the first year and went back to college. I was working full time, two jobs, with my kids and going to school," said Luna.

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At first she describes feeling unqualified and "too old" but she was determined to accomplish her lifelong dream.

"I was not as young as any of the students. I had four children and I didn't think of myself as someone who was going to contribute something special," said Luna. One of her professors encouraged her to apply for an internship at NASA. When she graduated with her masters she was hired by NASA for a full-time position.

It's been 10 years since Luna accomplished her NASA dream. You can say she aimed for the stars and went even further. Now she is paving the way for more Latinos.

"We are creating opportunities, internships for minorities and to be conscientious about who I'm giving that internship. It has to be a minority," said Luna.

Every summer Luna also gives back to her community. She goes back to San Jose State University as a professor.

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"It's important for them to hear somebody else that did not come from a privileged background. Someone who did not come from parents that were educated. In my mind I've had that "semillita" of education that I wanted to get educated," said Luna.

"You had a 'seed?'

"Yes planted in me to go and get an education early on," explained Luna.

Next time you look up and think the moon is too far to reach, Luna wants you to remember 238,000 miles is closer than you think.

"You can break barriers if you want to. Si se puede," said Luna.
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