Yajaira Sierra-Sastre

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Yajaira Sierra Sastre
NationalityPuerto Rican
OccupationNanotechnology scientist and educator

Dr. Yajaira Sierra Sastre[note 1] (born 1977) is a Puerto Rican nanotechnology scientist, educator, and aspiring astronaut. She is part of a six-person crew, and the only Hispanic, selected to participate in a four-month-long, Mars analog mission funded by NASA. Sierra Sastre aspires to become the first Puerto Rican woman to travel to outer space.

Early years

Sierra Sastre was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico,[1] and raised in the town of Arroyo where she received her secondary education. Throughout her childhood, she dreamed of becoming an astronaut. After graduating from Carmen Bozello de Huyke High School, she attended the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry.[1] Sierra Sastre then worked as high school chemistry teacher and attended Cornell University, where she earned a Ph.D. in materials chemistry and nanotechnology.[2][3] Nanotechnology (sometimes shortened to "nanotech") is the manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale.[4]

NASA's Mars simulation project

NASA realized that, in long duration missions, astronauts do not eat enough. They experience "menu fatigue" and their overall food intake declines, which puts them at risk of nutritional deficiency, loss of bone and muscle mass, and lethargy. The NASA Human Research Program is funding a project called "HI-SEAS," an acronym for “Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation,” to determine the best way to keep astronauts well nourished during multiple-year missions to Mars or the moon.[2][5]

A planetary module was built on the Hawaiian island of Mauna Loa, which simulates the living conditions for astronauts at a future base on Mars. It is believed that the saddle area side of the island resembles a Martian environment.[2][5]

External video
You may watch and listen to Dr. Yajaira Sierra Sastre during an interview here

After receiving more than 700 applications for positions as crew members of the simulated Mars mission, NASA and researchers from Cornell University and the University of Hawaii at Mānoa chose six astronaut-like individuals. Sierra Sastre was part of the selected crew with qualifications similar to those required by NASA for their astronaut applicants. The other five are Dr. Oleg Abramov, Simon Engler, Kate Greene, Sian Proctor and Angelo Vermeulen. Three additional individuals will make up the reserve crew.[2][5]

Prior to the four-month mission, which began on March 2013, the crew participated in a two-week training session. Once the mission began the crew was not to be allowed to have any communication with the outside world, except for limited e-mail. If they step outside the module they will have to wear simulated space suits. During the mission they will test new forms of food and food preparation strategies for deep-space travel.[2][5]

Sierra Sastre and her colleagues emerged from the space habitat on August 13, ending the four-month simulated mission. According to Sierra Sastre and the scientists involved in the mission, the food ingredients that will be essential for future space missions on Mars or the moon will include spices, herbs and hot sauce. Also comfort foods such as Nutella, peanut butter and margarine. Plus, certain foods which contain ingredients which are rich in fiber.[6]

Astronaut applicant

In November 2011, NASA announced 15 available positions for its team of astronauts. Sierra Sastre sent her application in January 2012. Her participation in the Mars project puts her one step closer to achieving her dream of becoming the first female Puerto Rican astronaut.[2]

Sierra Sastre lives in Ithaca, New York. She is a freelance educator working with disadvantaged school districts and communities in Puerto Rico. Sierra Sastre also collaborates in a variety of projects with the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network and the Cornell Nanoscale Facility, which included writing the smallest national anthem ever written, La Borinqueña Más Pequeña (the Puerto Rican national anthem).[5][7] Among the scientific works which she has co-authored is the 2008 article[8] "Vertical Growth of Ge Nanowires from Biotemplated Au Nanoparticle Catalysts," published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, volume 130, issue 10488.[8]


  1. ^ This article uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Sierra and the second or maternal family name is Sastre.

See also


  1. ^ a b HI-SEAS: Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. HI-SEAS, What is HI-SEAS: Crew Bios. University of Hawaii at Manoa. 26 June 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "La Borinqueña’ más pequeña"; El Nuevo Dia
  3. ^ "Yajaira Sierra One Step Closer to Becoming First Puerto Rican Woman in Space". Hispanicallyspeakingnews.com. Retrieved 2013-09-20.
  4. ^ Apply nanotech to up industrial, agri output The Daily Star (Bangladesh), 17 April 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e "VIDEO: NASA Mars food mission crew named". Bigislandvideonews.com. 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2013-09-20.
  6. ^ "Mars Food Scientists End 4-Month Mock Space Mission In Hawaii"; by Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer
  7. ^ DCiencias PR Template:Wayback
  8. ^ a b "Picraux Research Group". Cint.lanl.gov. Retrieved 2013-09-20.