UA student wins Astronaut Scholarship, wants to advance and lower cost of prosthetics

KOLD News 5-5:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 8:11 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - An undergraduate at the University of Arizona just received a scholarship that is out of this world.

Mechanical engineering senior and National Hispanic Scholar Roberto Peralta is now an Astronaut Scholar. Peralta is one of just 60 students nationwide to receive the Astronaut Scholarship.

Former Nasa Astronaut Curt Brown handed Peralta his certificate.

“I got it and I was super excited,” Peralta said.

“Six-year-old Roberto, I was fascinated with flying and space, and it has always kind of stuck in the back of my mind, you know, I would like to be able to fly someday,” Peralta said.

For Peralta, someday is today.

“This year, I got that scholarship and I said, ‘What is holding me back?’” Peralta said.

He is now a 2021 Astronaut Scholar, and he is on his way to getting his pilot’s license while earning his mechanical engineering degree with a minor in Math and French, all while applying for Ph.D. programs.

It is a dream come true for Peralta who said despite the name of the scholarship, he does not need to go to space to accomplish his goal.

“It’s not just for people interested in researching space or airplanes. It is really the broad spectrum of STEM,” Peralta said.

As a recipient, Peralta received $15,000 and was paired up with a mentor already in the industry who can help provide a different perspective.

Peralta now has access to an incredible network of people who like him, want to make a positive change.

For Peralta, his drive to make a difference came while on a high school mission trip to Haiti.

“I saw a lot of people who had been injured and lost limbs because of those earthquakes and natural disasters. Their prosthetics were limited to things that would strap onto their arms. It was really crude and rudimentary. I said this is something that is really missing from the world,” Peralta said.

When he returned home to Arizona, he began to research and speak with other amputees who told him about the incredible financial constraints associated with prosthetics.

Now, Peralta wants to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering so he can create high-tech prosthetics at a low cost.

“Creating prosthetic arms that are able to feel textures and temperatures through some sensors and then relay that back to the wearer,” Peralta said.

He compared his vision of modular prosthetics to Lego pieces.

“Where you mix and match certain pieces. So, if you grow out of the fitting cup for your arm you can just replace that instead of getting an entirely new prosthetic,” Peralta said.

Peralta said when people hear about his scholarship, they still think he’s going to space, and while that isn’t his goal right now, it’s not completely off the table.

“I am going to get my pilot’s license, but I’m maybe not going to go to space. Six-year-old me is still dreaming. Maybe one day I will get there, but for now, I would like to stay on earth and do the prosthetics,” Peralta said.

To encourage others to keep chasing after their dreams, Peralta admitted he applied for the Astronaut Scholarship once before and did not get accepted, but he did not give up.

He applied again and was ecstatic to learn he had been accepted.

He is scheduled to graduate in May of next year and is currently applying for Ph.D. programs across the country, including right here at the University of Arizona.

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