Sitting in a chair surrounded by his collection of model rockets, space shuttles, lunar landing capsules, and astronaut figurines, Axel Diaz’s face lights up as he talks about his passion for NASA and the space program. “I love science,” he beams. “I love NASA.” His excitement is palpable as he points out the different parts of each model, explaining the history and inner workings of each one.
NASA has been a nearly lifelong love for Axel. As a 9-year-old growing up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, he was once assigned a project researching the 10th anniversary of the first moon landing. “Back then you had no internet, so I had to go to the library,” he remembers. “I came home with two books about the first moon landing looking for information for my project, and I just fell in love. I fell in love with space, with NASA, and how they got to the moon. Since then I’ve always been interested. Always, always, always.”
He set his sights on becoming an engineer, but after meeting his wife and falling in love, those plans were put on hold. “It didn’t happen, because, you know, family,” he laughs. Axel earned an Associate’s Degree in Biomedical Technology while living in Puerto Rico. He and his wife also took courses through their church and became interpreters for the American Sign Language Association, helping deaf members of their community. In 1998, they decided to move to Lancaster. “It was an adventure,” he says, “and we stayed here.”
Axel found a job at International Paper, where he still works today. But a chance visit to the NASA Facebook page led him to another role that he considers his life’s purpose: “I was always on the NASA website and checking NASA’s Facebook, and one day I happened to see an ad looking for NASA Ambassadors. When I read about the NASA Ambassador program, I said, ‘Oh my God! This is something I can do! Something I would love to do! I can share my passion with people.’”
He filled out the lengthy application and waited to hear back. The applications were due in September, and by December, Axel still hadn’t heard any response about the program. “They said they would let us know in December, but guess what? Nothing happened. No one called me. But then one day, my boss came to me and said, ‘Someone called me from NASA. I thought it was a joke,’ but then my friend who’s a lawyer called me and said he also got a call from NASA. So I quickly called all five people I put as references on the application to tell them it wasn’t a joke!”
On December 24th, Axel received the news he had been anxiously hoping for—a letter accepting him as a NASA Ambassador. “December 24th. I won’t forget it. December 24th. That changed my life,” he grins. In his new position, Axel shares his passion for NASA and space with community outreach programs in the Lancaster area. He goes to schools, speaks to organizations such as the Boy Scouts, and holds events at the North Museum. “I’m a link between NASA and the public,” he explains. “I share my passion and explain what’s going on with NASA today.”
His favorite topic is the 1960s Apollo programs. “Back then, you had no technology. They had to invent technology, and when Kennedy said we would go to the moon by the end of the decade in 1962, they had eight years to make it happen, to build this rocket and go to the moon. It’s amazing.” And while he loves the 1960s, Axel’s knowledge about seemingly every aspect of NASA and the space program is inspiring. Facts and figures spill rapidly out of his mouth as he talks about the intricacies of each model surrounding him. “I will talk about whatever people want to talk about,” he says confidently. “I love to talk about Mars—when we are going, how it is going to happen—and I have done presentations about the eclipse and the solar system, talking about the planets and the sun and their sizes and distances.”
Although NASA Ambassadors typically serve two-year terms, Axel plans to remain in his position for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that he is also going back to school to realize one of his past dreams: completing his degree in Mechanical Engineering. “Yes, I will continue,” he asserts, “because, like I said, this is my passion. I love it.”