How a Brazilian Latter-day Saint discovered an asteroid and her faith — now she has her sights set on the stars

After visits with NASA and a stint at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Alabama, Laysa Peixoto has big plans for space travel

When Laysa Peixoto of Contagem, Brazil, looks up at the night sky, she finds more than stars. The 19-year-old Latter-day Saint and aspiring astronaut sees her past, her future and her faith. What Peixoto can’t quite spot with the naked eye is a recent discovery that bears her initials.

It’s an asteroid temporarily dubbed LPS0003. Because Peixoto is the space sleuth who spotted it, she’ll soon have the privilege of naming the asteroid whatever she wants. Peixoto joined a volunteer program to study data provided by the International  Astronomical Search Collaboration. She was pouring over previously studied images from a telescope in Hawaii when she spotted the asteroid.

A physics student at Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Brazil, Peixoto has told the story before. Speaking in impressive self-taught English over Zoom and with a sing-song enthusiasm, Peixoto said with a smile what must be her favorite phrase — “I discovered an asteroid!” Now, she has her sights set on space.

Since making news in Brazil with her discovery, Peixoto’s life has been a whirlwind. She traveled to the United States this summer, and, in addition to a stop in New York City to visit extended family and fulfill a dream of seeing “The Phantom of the Opera,” she attended the Space Academy hosted by the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“I worked so hard for this. It took two years of preparation, study, good grades, letters of recommendation and scholarships. And it was awesome.”

The renowned academy — often called Space Camp — gave Peixoto and other young people her first serious taste of astronaut training. But while some might leave the experience with their curiosity quenched, Peixoto left more eager than ever to pursue a career in astrophysics.

Her U.S. trip also included a stop in Florida at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, where she met retired NASA astronaut Michael Foreman, who helped Peixoto understand NASA’s desire to find people who stretch and better themselves. Now back in Brazil, with a growing social media presence and local press coverage, Peixoto can hardly believe her recent ride.

Laysa Peixoto, who has enrolled in a private pilot course, is pictured next to an airplane in this undated family photo. | Courtesy of Laysa Peixoto

“I’m living what I dreamed when I was a little girl.”

When Peixoto talks about childhood dreams, she means it quite literally. At 8 years old, she says she had a dream that refuses to be forgotten. “In my dream, I was a little girl on the floor. I was on my back, looking up at the sky. I saw these stars and they were coming closer to me. They came closer and closer until I could actually reach out and touch one.”

In rich laughter, Peixoto says she tries not to doubt her own mind. “Maybe we can’t trust our dreams, right? Because the brain likes to play with us sometimes. But I remember it well. I believe I was touching the infinite.”

For Peixoto, touching the infinite is about much more than stars and space. As a child, she began attending a local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with her grandmother. She was eventually baptized at age 11 and her faith has played a role in her love of learning. “Whenever I look up, I think of the love that God has for each one of us and how he cares about every detail of our life.” 

“I’m living what I dreamed when I was a little girl.”

The recent images from the James Webb Space Telescope have her pondering the intersection of faith and science. “We have more and more data to analyze and more knowledge than ever before,” Peixoto says. “This is a period of great enthusiasm for me. Now we have the most detailed and deep images of the universe, we can see even the first galaxies that formed.” 

Peixoto paints a picture of what she calls “indescribable joy” as she reads the Old Testament’s account of the Creation. “I feel I am closer to Heavenly Father than ever.” After a quiet beat and a breath, she continues. “I feel the sky teaches us a lot of things about our divine nature. We are an important part of the Cosmos, we are deeply connected with space and time and everything around us.” 

Peixoto feels this cosmic connection extends to her family. She lives with her mother and younger brother and tried to be careful not to prioritize her pursuits over her loved ones. “My family and faith are the most important things in my life. That will not change.”

Laysa Peixoto, who has enrolled in a private pilot course, is pictured next to an airplane in this undated family photo. | Courtesy of Laysa Peixoto
View Comments

When asked to consider what her future might hold, Peixoto says she wants to be married, have children and raise a family in their faith. “It might be a challenge to have a family and become an astronaut, but many others have done it. I know I can do it, too.” 

As for her education, Peixoto will first complete her undergraduate courses and then make decisions about what comes next. She’ll explore options for additional schooling in related disciplines and prepare to compete for a spot among the world’s elite. 

Peixoto hopes to pursue employment avenues at NASA, the Brazilian Space Agency and with companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. But her ultimate goal will always be to become an astronaut and see how far a ship will take her.

“I would like to go to the moon! And I think when we reach the moon again we’ll understand much more about it. We’ll have answers we’ve been waiting for.” In the meantime, she’s excited about working down here on Earth, making preparations for what the future might bring.

Join the Conversation