For helping change the face of space exploration
Most aspiring astronauts have dreamed of orbiting the Earth since childhood. Lisa Alcindor? Not so much. "I got interested in space by accident," she says. After graduating with a degree in economics, she applied on a lark for a role at the U.S. Defense Contract Management Agency and began working in aeronautics.
The space bug may have bitten late, but it made a lasting impact. Alcindor eventually made her way to NASA, where she helped inspect satellites and rockets. While in that role, she sat down one night to watch the film Hidden Figures, about three pioneering Black female mathematicians working at the U.S. space program in its early years. The movie stirred her, particularly a scene in which one of the women inspects a piece of equipment on a rocket engine. Alcindor had checked a similar piece of equipment that very day.
The film lit a fire under Alcindor’s own ambitions. She started dreaming not just of working in aerospace, but actually going to space—and being a role model for anyone else who wants to do the same.
"I want to create a space in space for the underrepresented. Only a handful of Black women have ever made it there," she says. "It’s also really important to me to show other creative people that there’s a space for them as well. I’m a creative. I grew up dancing, played the clarinet and was a member of my college marching band. Creative people think differently. They should have a chance to go to space, too."
Pulling information from NASA resources, she designed her own training program, learning how to fly a small plane and to scuba dive (mimicking the underwater training NASA uses to get astronaut candidates accustomed to weightlessness).
In 2019, she applied for the inaugural Citizen Astronaut Program, an initiative run by nonprofit Space for Humanity designed to bring more people to space. She made it to the second round of the program’s application process, with the winners expected to be announced later this year. Whether she’s picked or not, Alcindor is clear: "I’m going to space! I’m adamant about that. If I say I’m going to go do something, I’m going to have it on my mind—every single day."