April Blackwell, pictured above, was told that living with type 1 diabetes disqualified her to be an astronaut. She refused to let this condition stop her and has overcome numerous obstacles on her journey to becoming a NASA aerospace engineer. April Blackwell Provided the Images
Since childhood, April Blackwell has dreamed about becoming an astronaut.
“My father was probably the catalyst for that.” Blackwell said that Blackwell’s father was fascinated by space and had grown up during the Apollo moon landings. “He was always fascinated with space and was enamored of it his entire life,” Blackwell told Healthline.
When she was diagnosed at age 11 with type 1 diabetes, she knew that the condition would disqualify her from becoming a NASA astronaut. She had to consider whether she should hold onto her dream.
She said, “I couldn’t let it go. Even if I wasn’t an astronaut, I wanted to contribute to the aerospace industry.” “It is an amazing industry…and it shows that there are no problems too big.
This idea parallels her experience with type 1 diabetes during her adolescence. She learned how to manage her diabetes through trial and error and kept her ambitions for space in the forefront of her mind. This gave her the motivation to get through her toughest days.
Blackwell said, “I knew that in order to reach the other side and work on the station, or to figure out the trajectory to the Moon, I would have to make it through today with diabetes.”
Living with diabetes and working at NASA
Blackwell began her career as a flight engineer after graduating from college. She worked with Army test pilots to develop the best possible flight paths. She directed aircraft and pilots to gather data while flying on experimental helicopters.
She was not in the Army, but she needed an FAA Class III medical to board the planes. This was a problem because of her type 1 diabetic condition.
Blackwell said that it was a process of waiver to obtain a Class III medical. I had to go to a doctor and send in data, but they also required a lot more information to grant a waiver.
She had to advocate for herself in other activities, such as dunker training and a parachute class.
She said, “I had sort of to champion myself and prove to Army doctors that these activities were safe even for type 1.”
Her first job at NASA was as a mission control center flight controller. This involves assisting international space flights from the ground. For the certification of this job, a medical evaluation is required. This must be done every two years for most people but annually for those with type 1 diabetes.
She has recently taken on a new position working on NASA’s next big campaign, the Artemis Mission. This mission will put the first woman and the first person of color on the moon using innovative technologies.
Blackwell explained that “my job is now to integrate all these flight dynamics,” which includes things like [rendezvous], guidance, navigation, and control, as well as trajectory.
She is the leader of a group of people working on various aspects of a moon lander.
Her dad was a huge fan of Apollo 11’s moon landing in 1969, and now his daughter is helping to make the second moon landing possible.
“I can’t wait.” She said, “I don’t know what I’m going do when this mission occurs.”
Blackwell said, “I knew that in order to reach the other side and work on the station or to figure out the trajectory to the Moon, I would have to survive this day.” April Blackwell provided the images.
Her advocacy for herself led her to advocate for other people living with diabetes type 1
Blackwell began her advocacy work by advocating for herself while she was working with the Army. She began to share her story while trying to obtain a medical clearance from the FAA.
I was able to talk to a few people about how to go through the [FAA medical] procedure. “I realized that sharing my story was so powerful, especially when it related to my goal of becoming an astronaut,” said she.
She mentors young people and adults who are interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and aerospace careers.
She said, “I tell my students to find their passion because it will help you get through the hard days you may have to face because of diabetes or just because life can be hard.”
She helps parents of children who have type 1 diabetes and aspires to be astronauts to navigate the conversation. She empathizes as a mother of two children aged 5 and 7.
Blackwell said that parents don’t have to suppress their children’s dreams, but they also don’t need to give false hope. “Navigating those conversations can be challenging, especially if it’s not in your expertise. I love talking with parents about this.”
Dr. Rifka C. Schoman-Rosenbaum is the director of inpatient diabetic care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. She says that people with type one diabetes can still pursue their goals and passion.
In most cases, a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes would not restrict career choices. She told Healthline that flying to space is a rare case.
Dr. Dr. Karl Nadolsky is an endocrinologist at the American Board of Obesity Medicine and a diplomate.
He told Healthline that “the new insulin pumps known as hybrid closed loops” which work with Continuous Glucose Monitoring, have real data and anecdotal experiences showing their benefits to patients and making self-management easier,” “[I am] very optimistic as technology and therapies for delaying hyperglycemia have rapidly improved.”
Landing JDRF’s Twitch Channel
Blackwell’s newest way to raise awareness was by livestreaming her gaming. She played Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Juvenile Diabetic Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Twitch Channel. The livestream was a part of JDRF’s fundraiser.
She visited Omnipod bay during the game and brought diabetes representation into the gaming world. Insulet is a manufacturer of insulin pumps. Blackwell’s avatar was designed in a spacesuit.
She said, “I kind of geeked out.” The island is a great place to visit because it has a lot of diabetes easter eggs.
She said that the island makes people living with people with type 1 diabetes feel welcome and represented without judgment while also raising awareness for those who do not have the disease. This includes her children.
“[My] children don’t have diabetes, but they watch me deal with it everyday and seeing it in real life at a place like the game makes it seem even more normal,” said she. “It helps them develop empathy not only for people with type 1, but for people who have any kind of condition that is outwardly visible. [But in the game], everyone’s just having fun, looking for sea life, or dressing up in cute clothes.”
She hopes that the continued advocacy and representation will help those people with type 1 diabetes move from being an avatar in a video game to a real-life situation.