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Q&A with aerospace engineer April Blackwell on National Diabetes Awareness Month

This local woman flies International Space Station from NASA's Mission Control

HOUSTON – November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and despite being a serious disease, it hasn't stopped a local Houstonian from reaching for the sky.

Aerospace engineer April Blackwell shares her incredible story about how she is able to work at NASA's mission control while living with Type 1 diabetes.

Her space dreams started when she was a young girl, but even though she was 11 years old when she was diagnosed, she turned a "no" into a "yes."

"Type 1 diabetes is an automatic disqualification to be a NASA astronaut unfortunately, so my dream sort of morphed into becoming an aerospace engineer where I could still work with rockets and space and astronauts every day, but I'm here on the ground, for now," said Blackwell, who hopes to become the first woman in space with Type 1 diabetes.

Here's what Blackwell had to say about her interesting work and health journey.

Q: Describe living with diabetes in three words?

A: A delicate balance.

Q: What is the coolest thing about your job?

A: The coolest thing about my job is working together with colleagues literally all over the world to execute safe, successful missions in space! I am constantly amazed how such different cultures with different philosophies and spaceflight histories are able to peacefully collaborate across continents, time zones and languages!  

Q: What is the most challenging thing about your job?

A: The most challenging part of the job is working strange schedules -- sometimes overnight!

Q: What is your advice for anyone who wants to be an aerospace engineer?

A: My advice for anyone who wants to be an aerospace engineer is dive right in! If you're not in college yet, hone those engineering skills by solving problems and working in teams. If you are in college, seek out internships or hands-on student projects!

Q: Who inspired you to be in the aerospace field?

A: My dad initially inspired me -- he is an aircraft mechanic and has a deep love of the space program. But both of my parents have been so supportive — constantly feeding my space obsession with trips to space museums, a week at space camp, and lots and lots of books!

Q: What would you say to young people living with Type-1 diabetes that you wish you would have known when you were younger?

A: Two things. First, you are not alone! The internet has made it easy to find community. There are social media groups for everyone affected by the disease -- kids, parents of type 1s, grandparents of Type 1s, siblings of type 1s -- you name it! Organizations like JDRF also host conferences and have great online resources to make living with the disease easier. Find your people!

Second,  "no" doesn't always mean no. There are still barriers for Type 1s -- many due to antiquated data or misunderstanding the management of the disease. Don't be afraid to be a rule questioner, and like I said before, there is a huge community standing at the ready to help with questions and give weight to your voice!

Q:  What do you want Houstonians to know about diabetes?

A: There are a lot of different types of diabetes (not just 2!) and the terms can be confusing. As a diabetic myself, I would much rather answer questions about my specific type or management technique than have someone assume something incorrect! Education is key, visit JDRF.org/houston for lots of great information and look out for City Hall turning blue on Thursday, Nov. 14th in honor of National Diabetes Awareness Month.

To see Blackwell's complete interview, watch the video above.