First Deaf Aspiring Astronaut: Julia Velasquez


The conquest of outer space by Deaf people is getting closer every day. You will remember that Sign Language can have advantages in outer space (article here), that 11 Deaf men made important contributions to the research of the behavior of the human body in the absence of gravity (article here) and that in 2018, for the first time a Deaf female engineer participated in an active NASA mission (Johanna Lucht). Now, for the first time in history, a Deaf woman is a strong candidate to become an astronaut, she has passed the first challenges and her determination is admirable: Julia Velasquez.

Aspiring Astronaut in 2017

In 2017, while Julia was studying at the University of California San Diego, she participated in a contest to choose a single student from that university among 30 other applicants and Julia was chosen. The announcement of the winner of the contest was a surprise recorded by the television network Xploration Station, distributed by the important audiovisual multinational Fox Broadcasting Company. You can watch the announcement and Julia's reaction in the following video (ASL and English subtitles):

After winning the contest, Julia went to Hawaii to participate in an astronaut training program in an environment that simulated the habitat of Mars. After receiving the announcement, Julia dedicated her thank you message to empowering Deaf people, hoping that her personal achievement would serve as a role model for other young Deaf people.

In the following video you can watch a short interview after winning the contest (in ASL, without subtitles):

The Experience of Living on Mars

Part of the training involved Julia obtaining an aviation pilot's license. Outside the United States, it may come as quite a surprise that a Deaf person would obtain an aviation pilot's license. However, as reported by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, there are about 200 deaf people licensed as aviation pilots in the United States.

Another part of the training was an experience simulating life on Mars in a habitat called HI-SEAS, located on the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii. During this experience, although Julia had a Sign Language interpreter, other people from the scientific team took the opportunity to learn or practice Sign Language, which they then tried to use during a simulation of Martian exploration, with which Julia wanted to show other forms of human communication, in the same way that astronauts need to learn other languages to communicate with international colleagues. A recap of her time in this training program can be seen in this video report (ASL and automatic English subtitles):

Intense Preparation for Success

Julia had an early vocation for outer space, she was given her first telescope when she was ten years old and her father would wake her up at dawn to watch meteor showers. Since then, her resume has been full of training and experiences: she graduated in Biology from Gallaudet University, was selected for internships at the NASA Academy and at the Kennedy Space Center, worked as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health and at the University of Rochester Medical Center, lived for a few years in Sweden, where she held various responsibilities in the Swedish National Association of Deaf Youth (Sveriges Dövas Ungdomsförbund) and the European Union of Deaf Youth (EUDY), and has traveled to more than 30 countries around the world.

Julia Velasquez (right) with part of the Xploration Station and PISCES production and film crew at HI-SEAS, the Mars surface simulation habitat in Hawaii (photo: © PISCES Hawaii via Flickr).

Candidate For a Space Mission

Recently, Julia has been in the news again for being one of the candidates to participate in the first space mission with an all-civilian crew, called SpaceX Inspiration4, which was announced on February 1, 2021. This mission will consist of a several-day stay in low Earth orbit during which they will conduct a series of scientific experiments and is scheduled to take place before the end of the year.

Julia has gone viral with a message full of hope on social networks and has immediately received the support of thousands of people around the world and her video on Twitter has reached more than 65k reproductions:

Julia can make it happen, she has everything she needs and the determination to prove that deaf people can come up with creative solutions to make it happen. Follow Julia on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
We can do the same things as everybody else, we want to be equal. We want to come up with creative solutions to make it work (Julia Velasquez, 2018)


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