Kentucky public high school graduate helped launch NASA’s Artemis I mission to space

Photo courtesy of Alora Mazarakis/Kentucky Department of Education

A Kentucky public high school graduate is getting attention for her role in NASA’s Artemis I mission that sent a rocket to space in November.

Alora Mazarakis, a 2014 graduate of Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelby County, is a flight communications and tracking engineer for NASA who worked on Artemus I that launched Nov. 16, according to Kentucky Department of Education officials.

“I went to elementary, middle and high school in Shelbyville, Kentucky. I went to college at the University of Louisville at the Speed School of Engineering. Even though I wasn’t born in Kentucky, Kentucky has my heart,” she said in a video interview with WDRB.

Her job is making sure the communication systems in the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System rocket work properly.

Mazarakis’ father is a UPS pilot and she has said in media interviews that she knew since she was young that she wanted to work in space.

When she was 7 or 8 years old, she had a “star lit chat” with her dad on the front lawn. He asked her what she wanted to do with her life and she told him that she wanted to go to college at NASA.

“You can’t go to college at NASA,” she said in a Kentucky Department of Education news release, “but that just kind of shows you what I was thinking as a kid.”

At one point, Mazarakis considered becoming a dentist, but her thoughts always returned to NASA and rocket ships.

After she finished her master’s degree, she got a job at NASA as a radio frequency engineer. Her job in the firing room is to assure the success of all the antennas on the rocket.

“I was a little girl from Shelbyville, Kentucky who almost didn’t follow my passion in space because I thought it was so out of reach.... and that is so not true,” she told WDRB.

Artemis I is the first in a series of of complex missions that will enable human exploration to the moon and Mars, according to nasa.gov.

The unmanned rocket will fly around the moon and is expected to land back on Earth in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11, the Kentucky Department of Education release said. Artemis II is expected to carry astronauts around the moon, according to nasa.gov. Artemis III is expected to include a manned spacecraft landing on the moon

“I’m just speechless because it’s so exciting to think that we’re going back to the moon,” Mazarakis said in the state news release. “And this time, we’re not just going for political reasons, we’re not going to show other countries just that we can, we’re going for science.”

Mazarakis has been working with NASA since she was in college at the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering, including as a contractor working on the International Space Station for five years, the state news release said.

She said on News Quiz, KET’s weekly current event show, that taking an interest in science and math is the best thing students could do to set themselves up to be a NASA scientist.

Mazarakis participated in Project Lead the Way at Martha Layne Collins High School during her senior year, where she saw what it would be like to be an engineer.

Scott Cress, Mazarakis’ former teacher at Martha Layne Collins High School, said in the Kentucky Department of Education release that Mazarakis was “extremely bright and extremely outgoing.” Cress worked with Project Lead the Way as the school’s mathematics department chair.

Project Lead the Way is a nationwide program that provides hands-on courses for students.

“It’s just a great way to get students thinking, to get them really using critical thinking skills to develop something,” Mazarakis said.