How Ellen Ochoa Became the First Hispanic Woman to Go to Space
Dr. Ellen Ochoa is a Latina space pioneer!
She made history by becoming the first Hispanic woman to ever go to space. In 1990, Ellen Ochoa was admitted into NASA’s astronaut training and she became the first Latina in space in 1993 when she went on a nine-day mission aboard a space shuttle called Discovery.
Since then, she has gone into space 4 times and logged 1,000 hours in orbit. Ellen Ochoa’s missions include the STS-66, STS-96, and STS-110.
Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman to ever go into space. Read on to find more about her accomplishments, education, and how she reached such an impressive goal.
Ellen Ochoa’s Accomplishments
Before she started her career as an astronaut, Ellen was an inventor and research engineer who created optical systems for aerospace missions. In 1990, she began working at the Johnson Space Center and was selected to be an astronaut.
Ellen Ochoa was the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas from 2013 until 2018. She was the center’s first Hispanic director.
Ellen Ochoa made history not just by being the first Latina in space but also by being the second female director of all time.
A Brief Biography of Ellen Ochoa
Ellen is an inspiration to young Hispanic women interested in interesting and rewarding careers, especially in math, science, and engineering. Let’s learn more about her life and career.
Background and Personal Life
Ellen Ochoa was born on May 10, 1958 in Los Angeles, California. Her Hispanic roots come from her father, whose family is from Mexico. Both his parents were Mexican, and her father was born in the U.S.
He was one of 12 children and grew up speaking English and Spanish. Unfortunately, he didn’t speak Spanish to his kids at home. Ellen says it was due to prejudice against immigrants at the time. She’s glad to see that things have changed.
Ellen’s drive for success and constant learning started in her childhood. She was greatly motivated by her career goals because she says that being an astronaut has allowed her to learn continuously.
Ellen Ochoa is not only an astronaut, engineer, and researcher, but also a musician, wife, and mother. One of her favorite hobbies is playing the classical flute. She lives in Texas with her husband and their two kids.
Ellen studied electrical engineering at Stanford University where she earned her master’s and doctorate in the 80s.
As a specialist in developing optical systems, she contributed as a research engineer at Sandia National Labs and Ames Research Center for NASA. She helped create patented methods and systems. She created optical systems to detect imperfections in patterns and recognize objects in space.
As mission specialist and flight engineer, Ochoa has logged more than 950 hours in space. She has been in charge of computer software development and flight software.
She has also served the Chief of the Astronaut Office as Assistant for Space Station and has served as Acting Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. She now serves as Director of Flight Crew Operations at the JSC in Houston, Texas.
In 1999, she was part of the Discovery STS-96 crew. They ran the International Space Station (ISS) and carried supplies to get the ISS ready for astronauts to stay there. Ellen Ochoa was in charge of the station’s robotic arm, which lifts Atlantis’ payload and attaches it to the station. In total, Ellen Ochoa spent more than 40 days in space.
During her tenure as director of Johnson Space Center, Ellen oversaw work on Orion. Orion was designed to travel far into space and explore places including Mars!In 2018, Ochoa retired from Johnson Space Center. She became chair of the National Science Board (NSB) in 2020, and she currently heads the National Science Foundation.
Ellen Ochoa’s career and life has left a mark on the world. Here are a few of her quotes to inspire you!
“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire—the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.”
“I tell students that the opportunities I had were a result of having a good educational background. Education is what allows you to stand out.”
“That’s what we want to do here at Johnson Space Center. I think what we have always brought to NASA and brought to the country is trying to push the boundaries, trying to go to the next level.”
“A hallmark of the Latino community is to help one another. If students are interested in a way to give back and help their communities, becoming a teacher is probably one of the very best ways of doing that.”
For more inspirational quotes, check out:
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STEM is a term used to group science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM is also a teaching philosophy that integrates these four disciplines into a cross-disciplinary program. Ellen Ochoa is a role model for women of color in STEM.
Women are still underrepresented, particularly in engineering and physics. Ochoa says she didn’t have many role models growing up in NASA. Nonetheless, she has helped open the door for more diverse candidates applying at NASA and hopes to inspire women of all ages to follow their dreams.
Ellen Ochoa has received numerous awards, including:
- 1995 Outstanding Leadership Medal
- 1997 NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal
- 1993, 1994, 1999, 2002 Space Flight Medals
Her charity work includes sitting on a number of boards. She also chairs the Nomination Evaluation Committee for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
Who Inspires You?
Ellen Ochoa says that her mother influenced her the most. When she was one year old, her mom started college while raising a family. And because she was raising a family, it took her 22 years to graduate. Nevertheless, she did graduate and always taught Ellen to find enjoyment in learning. Her mother’s example inspired Ellen Ochoa to focus on academic excellence.
Celebrate Hispanic heritage by learning Spanish and make the greatest investment as a family in education. Make your family bilingual by learning Spanish. You will have the capability to teach your children Spanish or set a family goal to become fluent together. Sign up for a free trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy and advance your language skills today!
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