Yajaira Sierra-SastreDr. Yajaira Sierra-Sastre is a materials scientist and edupreneur.  Yajaira obtained her BS degree in Chemistry and Teacher’s Certification from University of Puerto Rico and her PhD in Nanomaterials Science from Cornell.  In 2013, she lived her astronaut dream here on Earth when she was chosen to participate in a four-month long Mars analog mission funded by NASA.  A teacher-turned scientist, Yajaira continues to nurture her passion for K-12 education through science outreach activities and professional service at all levels. Dr. Sierra-Sastre is currently dedicated to developing her own social enterprise which focuses on creating research opportunities for K-12 students in the Americas.  Yajaira is the Mission Director for #PRCubeStars. We are a team of students, educators, scientists, engineers, architects, and makers from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.  For more information about our Perlan II CubeSat project please read the abstract below:


#PRCubeStars: Diego J.L. Vázquez-Santos*, Diamarys Salomé Rivera*, Cristal L. Pérez-Pi*, Dariel Torres-Velázquez*, Carmen Noble*, Carlos Rodríguez^, Damaso Cardenales^, Daron A. Westly^, Yajaira Sierra-Sastre”, Félix Rivera-Mariani’

*Thomas Armstrong Toro Specialized Science and Math High School, ^Mission Support Specialist, “Mission Director, ‘Principal Investigator

perlan 2 pr cube team 2

Photo credit: Ricardo Miranda-Pérez

Fungal spores, which are known to pose human respiratory health risks (e.g. respiratory allergies, asthma), are important contributors to the Microbiome particularly in the troposphere. Less is known about their potential to contribute to stratospheric Microbiome. The proposed research seeks to design a CubeSat with a Removable Specimen Collector to determine if allergenic fungal spores can reach the stratosphere. Air samples will be collected at ground level, troposphere, and stratosphere levels through a Removable Specimen Collector designed within a CubeSat, which will be carried up through the different layers of the atmosphere by the Perlan II glider.  The design and performance of the CubeSat hardware will be optimized through preliminary experimentation prior to launch. Through optical microscopy and image analysis, the concentration of fungal spores per cubic meter of air and proportions of specific fungal spore types will be determined and compared between the ground level, troposphere, and stratosphere levels. Our expected findings will provide insights into the contribution of allergenic fungal spores to the stratospheric Microbiome, and thus the potential of allergenic fungal spores to engage in long-distance travel through the upper layers of the atmosphere.