“What interests me, what challenges me, and what could get me a job later” …
Born in Los Angeles on May 10, 1958, Dr. Ellen Ochoa was the first Latina and second woman astronaut, and now the 11thDirector of the Johnson Space Center. She served as Deputy Director since 2007 before becoming the director in 2013. She is a wife and raised two sons.
Ms. Ochoa is also a research scientist and a public speaker. She holds three patents on optical processing and is the recipient of several awards including the NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1997) and the Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995). She holds 4 Space Flight Medals (2002,1999, 1994, 1993) for her four flights representing close to 1000 hours she has spent in space.
Motivated by her mother, she graduated with three double majors. Dr. Ochoa excelled in math and science. Her point of reference was… “what interest me, what challenges me, and what could get me a job later”. Ochoa entered San Diego State University with the intensions of majoring in music because of her love with the flute. After her first major in business, she moved to journalism to computer science when she finally settled on physics and graduated in 1980. She then continued her studies at Stanford University to receive her master’s in electrical engineering in 1981 and her doctorate in 1985. It was in school when she heard a conversation among students about the NASA program. She realized she had all the qualifications, so she sent in her application but was rejected. She continued to send in the application each year until she was accepted in 1987 in the top 100 of the group.
While waiting for her application to be accepted she worked as a researcher at the Sandia National Laboratories. She developed three patents by age 33, replacing computer operations by optical process to improve images. By 1987, she clearly set on wanting to be an astronaut. Her application was accepted and joined the staff of a NASA research center in Mountain View, California. Later that year she was chief of the information sciences division heading a team of 35 scientists and engineers. Her mission was to improve computer systems for use in aerospace. By 1989, she had won the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Award for Most Promising Engineer in Government.
Ochoa received the National Hispanic Quincentennial Commission in 1990 and was received as an astronaut candidate. Within the following year Ochoa had been trained as a space shuttle specialist. Ochoa’s first mission in 1993 was a nine-day mission on the Discovery shuttle to monitor gases in the Earth’s middle atmosphere and to retrieve a satellite. Her next flight was aboard the Atlantis shuttle as a payload commander in 1994, to continue the mission of her previous flight related once again to the Earth’s atmosphere. In 1999, Dr Ochoa was commissioned to a 10-day flight in which the crew performed the first docking to the International Space Station, delivering 4 tons of logistics and supplies in preparation for the arrival of the first crew to live on the station. Dr. Ochoa coordinated the transfer of supplies and also operated the Remote Manipulator System within the shuttle.
Dr. Ochoa was aboard the STS-110 Atlantis (April, 2002) the 13th Shuttle mission to visit the International Space Station which included space walks for the crew. It was Dr. Ochoa who handled the shuttle’s hand control to retrieve the $6 million Spartan that is now displayed in the Smithsonian Museum. It was a satellite designed to study the sun’s corona, the velocity and acceleration of the solar wind.
Ochoa “has been recognized with NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award for senior executives in the federal government. She has received many other awards and is especially honored to have six schools named for her. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), serves on several boards, and chairs the Nomination Evaluation Committee for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation).*
TheBiography.com, A&E Television Networks, May 25, 2021
*National Aeronautics and Space Page Last Updated: May 7, 2021 Page Editor: Jason Roberts, NASA Official Brian Dunbar.