Interview with an Artemis Engineer

At 1:47 am ET on Nov. 16, 2022, history was made and a dream came true. Artemis I, the largest rocket ever launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and embarked on a successful, 25-day test flight around the moon and back to Earth. Meanwhile, Mechanical Engineer and TECHNOLOchicas 5.0 Ambassador Zaida Hernández kept watch on the thermal systems from the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center. 

"Exploring the next frontier, being part of one of the most well-known engineering and science centers in the world, and working on missions that would benefit humanity are some of the reasons I became interested in engineering -- particularly in the space industry.

Color photo of Zaida Hernandez, a Hispanic woman, 25 - 35 years old, with long black hair. She is seen smiling toward the viewer with grahic elements related to space surrounding her.

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En Español: Para Estudiantes | Para Adultas Influyentes | Para Docentes

In that moment, Zaida’s childhood wish to work in space technology became hyperreal. The unmanned Artemis I tour around the moon also marked the first integrated flight test of NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Systems, which includes the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and upgraded Exploration Ground Systems — and there’s much more to come.

"Artemis II will take the first woman and person of color to the moon, but it is the first of many more missions that promise diversity and inclusion in space."

Smithsonian Documentary – Project Artemis: Back to the Moon (44-min)

After recycling and refurbishing the Orion capsule following its re-entry to Earth, splashdown, and retrieval from the Pacific Ocean near Baja, Calif., Artemis II is currently scheduled to launch again in November 2024. Zaida supports the mission by working on the craft’s thermal protection system and shielding materials for the vehicle that will carry a crew of four — which she’s done since she landed an internship with NASA in college. 

"Finding out that I would continue to do this full time was very exciting for me! I feel like it is an honor knowing that I am a small contributor of the many people across the US supporting the Artemis mission."

Artemis II poster by NASA that reds: "For all humanity"

Download the 11×17 NASA Poster: Artemis II – For All Humanity

As the name suggests, the Orion capsule has some truly astronomical specs in order to withstand the extreme physical forces involved in space travel. Zaida explained that the spacecraft is equipped with with thermal protection systems to safeguard the people and equipment inside from temperatures as high as 4000°F.

"Orion can be thought of as an aeroshell with a heatshield and a backshell. The thermal system includes tiles and ablators which have all undergone extensive testing and can take the heat."

Podcasts: NASA’s Curious Universe | Universo Curioso de NASA

Zaida also works on a lunar vehicle to ensure all of the components hold up to the conditions on the moon’s South Pole, which can be very hot or very cold. As seen with other technological leaps stemming from space missions, there are numerous potential applications across other fields. In fact, the kind of technology Zaida engineers is already changing the world. 

"There have been a number of 'spinoffs' of NASA-developed technology used in commercial applications for Earth, including fire resistant materials and even extreme weather clothing."

For Educators: What is the Artemis Program? (Grades 5-8)

Zaida earned her Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering in 2015 and Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering in 2017 from the University of Houston, an NCWIT Higher Ed Alliance member institution. She knew that technology presented opportunities for creativity, innovation, and making an impact. Yet even with her academic background, hands-on experience from her internship, and support from her parents, when looking back, Zaida admits she grappled with imposter syndrome when she was brought on full-time at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

"Honestly, the realization that I would be working there as an engineer didn’t hit me until after I started to work there. Now that I think about it, I feel that I experienced imposter syndrome. I felt like they could change their minds and take back my offer, but once I accepted it, I felt very proud of this accomplishment."

Get the Artemis Camp Experience: For Grades K-12 + Informal Education

Zaida’s experience underscores the importance of both representation and inclusive cultures that promote a sense of belonging, which is why she felt motivated to become a TECHNOLOchicas Ambassador and help diverse technologists to both see themselves as integral to the industries that inspire them and understand their ideas and perspectives are needed.

"I don’t have to search far to find great role models in my field. I work with some previous TECHNOLOchicas that I think are amazing in their roles: Diana Trujillo, NASA Flight Director, and Alma Stephanie Tapia, NASA Materials Engineer."

TECHNOLOchicas Ambassadors at NASA: Ali | Alma + Susana | Diana

For students who now look up to her and aspire to careers in aerospace at NASA — or who hope to build a career with technology in another arena, Zaida offers the following advice:

"Internships are wonderful. Don’t wait until your senior year to start applying. There is so much value from real-world applications and learning."

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Be a TECHNOLOchicas Ambassador

If you are a Latina who loves technology, are in college or a technical field, and also want to be a role model for the next generation of technologists, you can fill out this form to get started. 

Join the Aspirations in Computing Community

In addition to supporting awareness-raising and representation via TECHNOLOchicas, the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing program is designed to help support underrepresented students in pursing their passions and persisting in technical fields of study in two ways:

  1. NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Recognitions
  2. NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Community

The first initiative aims to celebrate and encourage students nationwide who are women, genderqueer, and non-binary to pursue their passion for technology, as well as professionals and educators who champion efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in computing education and careers. The second convenes a network of more than 25,000 amazing and encouraging peers across the country, providing exclusive opportunities and access to events throughout the year. TECHNOLOchicas and students who are currently in high school, in undergraduate programs, and pursuing graduate degrees can join the community online today.

Volunteer with AiC to Help Select Awardees

If you would like to directly support students with Aspirations in Computing, you can register as a volunteer Award Reviewer at and help select awardees for recognition each year! It’s an easy and inspiring way to make an impact in young people’s lives and help bridge gaps in technology fields. Check out the previous NCWIT blog post to learn more.

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