National Hispanic Heritage Month: Ellen Ochoa, Astronaut

In 1993, American astronaut Ellen Ochoa made history as the first Hispanic woman to travel into outer space. This pioneering flight involved a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in which she helped conduct an array of atmospheric and solar studies.

Ochoa was born in Los Angeles in 1958. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from San Diego State University and both a master’s degree and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Ochoa formally began her career as an astronaut in 1991. Her other space flights took place in 1994, 1999, and 2002. Altogether, Ochoa logged in nearly 1,000 hours in space.

“Something that deals with exploration, that is trying to push not only our country but the world in a direction that it has not been before, that looks beyond yourself and your own community is very appealing,” Ochoa recounted during a 2007 interview with the Houston Chronicle. “Then there is just the experience of being in space, of looking down at the Earth and experiencing weightlessness – that is just a very special experience.”

Towards the end of 2002, Ochoa was appointed deputy director of flight crew operations at NASA. She took over as director of that program in 2006 and served in the role for a year before her selection as deputy director of the NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (JSC). Her responsibilities as the JSC’s deputy director included helping to manage the astronaut office and aircraft operations in Houston. When Ochoa was named the JSC’s director in 2013, she made history yet again as the first Hispanic-American to hold that position. She served as director until retiring from NASA in May 2018.

Ochoa has received numerous awards, including NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal. In 2017, she was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame.

For more information on Dr. Ellen Ochoa, please check out

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