Justice quest of first Vietnamese-American woman set to travel into space

By Linh Le   April 5, 2024 | 04:30 am PT
Amanda Nguyen, set to be the first Vietnamese-American woman to fly into space, has fought for the rights of sexual attack victims in the U.S, drawing from her own experience as a survivor.
Amanda Nguyen, poised to bethe first woman of Vietnamese descent to venture into space. Photo from Nguyens Instagram

Amanda Nguyen, poised to be the first woman of Vietnamese descent to venture into space. Photo from Nguyen's Instagram

Space for Humanity announced last month that Nguyen, 33, will be traveling past the earth’s atmosphere as part of its Citizen Astronaut Program, which is dedicated to "empowering each citizen astronaut to address global challenges with a broader perspective."

The Vietnamese-American woman is set to embark on her space journey aboard a New Shepard rocket by Blue Origin, an American aerospace manufacturer, defense contractor, and space launch provider.

The launch date for the New Shepard mission has yet to be announced.

Before news of her planned journey into space, Nguyen was renowned for her contributions to the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act and her advocacy for Asian-American rights.

According to a 2016 report by The Guardian, Nguyen’s path towards becoming an astronaut, a dream she had long cherished, was disrupted following a sexual assault against her in 2013.

The report highlighted that after she submitted evidence via a rape kit in Massachusetts, state laws granted Nguyen 15 years to decide on pursuing legal action. However, a pamphlet she received at the hospital indicated that, without an "extension request" every six months, state law permitted the destruction of her rape kit.

Required to renew this request biannually, Nguyen stated the system forced her to "live her life by the date of the rape."

This situation led Nguyen to question sexual assault survivors’ legal protections in other states. She compiled a list of over 20 legal rights available to this group across different states and discovered a wide variance in protection levels. She noted the absence of any state law that guaranteed the retention of a rape kit until the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Prompted by this, Nguyen temporarily set aside her aspirations for space travel.

"At the crossroads of justice or my astronaut dream, I chose justice," Nguyen declared in a video posted on the Facebook page of the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City on March 27 as she recounted her journey.

She mobilized her friends and contacts into an online network of volunteers, which later became known as Rise, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and furthering citizen’s civil rights. Together, they explored various legal remedies and successfully garnered support for legislation.

Nguyen’s efforts subsequently inspired Senate Democrats to introduce a bill aimed at consolidating and standardizing rights for sexual assault survivors.

Merely two months after the establishment and mobilizations of Nguyen’s organization, legislators in Massachusetts had proposed a bill introducing numerous new rights for survivors of sexual assault. This bill aimed to establish a tracking system for rape kits and prevent the premature destruction of these kits by law enforcement without proper processing, testing, or notifying the victim.

Shortly thereafter, Nguyen’s organization crafted a similar legislative proposal for lawmakers in California who showed interest and engaged with legislators in New York. The proposal was then introduced in Congress and the House of Representatives.

The bill was unanimously passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the U.S. in Sep. 2016, according to Time magazine. Former U.S. President Barack Obama signed it into law in October of the same year. Many states have since adopted similar legislation, according to CNBC.

It is estimated to affect nearly 25 million people in the U.S. Many U.S. states have adopted the act or used it as a basis to develop compatible state laws.

"For 10 years, I traded my telescope for a pen to draft laws protecting survivors," she declared.

Nguyen is also known for being a strong voice for the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, opposing the hatred directed at this group.

In Feb. 2016, she uploaded a video on Instagram urging national media to more effectively report on the surge of anti-Asian violence. The video quickly gained widespread attention, leading to such a significant impact that U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the violence during his first prime-time address as president a month later, as reported by The Harvard Gazette.

With her achievements, Nguyen was then nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize and named Woman of the Year by Time magazine in 2022.

After graduating from Harvard, she took on the role of Deputy White House Liaison for the U.S. Department of State and resumed her pursuit of space travel, according to Forbes.

"I am Vietnamese. I’m flying to space so that young Vietnamese women can see themselves among the stars," she spoke in the video posted on the Facebook page of the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.

"I might be the first, but I will not be the last."

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