Ellen Ochoa: First Female Hispanic Astronaut and Director of the NASA Johnson Space Center
Dr. Ellen Ochoa was born in Los Angeles, CA in 1958 and grew up in La Mesa. Dr. Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman astronaut to go into space in 1993 and in 2012 was the first Hispanic director, and the second female director, of the NASA Johnson Space Center. In both high school and in college, she was the class valedictorian.
In 1980, Dr. Ochoa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from San Diego State University and a Master of Science and a Doctor of Philosophy in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. While at Stanford University, she learned that other graduate students were interested in NASA including the astronaut training program. She then applied for the astronaut program in 1985. Because of the competitiveness in joining the NASA Training Program, Dr. Ochoa applied three times, finally being accepted in 1990.
After graduating with her PhD in 1985, Dr. Ochoa worked as a research engineer at the Sandia National Laboratories and Ames Research Center of NASA. Her career was spent with optical systems. Dr. Ochoa is co-inventor of three patents for optical systems. Dr. Ochoa later became Chief of Intelligent System Technology at the Ames Research Center.
In 1993, Dr. Ochoa became the first female Hispanic astronaut to go into space serving on the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-56). She is also a classical flutist and played with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra-she took her flute on the mission. Dr. Ochoa served as the mission specialist (manipulating the robotic arm) on her first flight. In 1994, Dr. Ochoa was the payload commander on Space Shuttle Atlantis. Dr. Ochoa was the mission specialist and payload commander in 1999 back on the Space Shuttle Discovery-the first shuttle to dock at the International Space Station. Her fourth and final flight was on the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2002 as payload commander.
After retiring from spacecraft operations in 2007, Dr. Ochoa became the Deputy Director of the NASA Johnson Space Center managing the Astronaut Office and Aircraft Operations. Then in 2013, Dr. Ochoa became the first Hispanic Director (11th Director) of the NASA Johnson Space Center. She was Director until 2018.
Dr. Ochoa has received the Distinguished Service Medal-NASA’s highest award, the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, in addition to numerous other awards. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronauts. In 2017, Dr. Ochoa was inducted into the United States Astronauts Hall of Fame. In addition to her awards, there are six schools that are named for her.