Ellen Ochoa, Engineer & First Latina Astronaut
Ellen Ochoa was born on May 10, 1958, in Los Angeles, California and would later become the first Hispanic woman to travel to space. Her Hispanic heritage comes from her father, who is Mexican, but her parents divorced by the time Ellen was a teenager. Ellen, her three brothers and sister were raised by their single mother from then on. Ochoa grew up in La Mesa, California and graduated from Grossmont High School as valedictorian. She continued her studies at San Diego University and explored journalism, computer science, and business before settling on physics. In 1980, she graduated as valedictorian once again, this time from San Diego University with a Bachelor of Science in Physics. Ochoa was accepted to Stanford University for her undergraduate, but she chose to stay close to home to help take care of her three younger brothers. Even so, she continued to push herself throughout college and received a Master of Science and Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from the prestigious Stanford University. Ochoa immersed herself in Stanford’s community and learned that many graduate students were interested in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut training program. She too applied to the program in 1985, an impressive feat as applications were only opened to women in 1978. 1985 was also the year Rodolfo Neri flew his first space shuttle, making him the first Latino astronaut.
Soon after earning her Doctorate in 1985, she worked at Sandia National Laboratories and Ames Research Center of NASA as a research engineer. One method she pioneered during her time there was an optical system that detects imperfections in repeating patterns, which received a patent. While researching job opportunities, Ochoa found out that she was one of the hundred finalists of the NASA program, but it was not until 1990 that she was selected to participate in the program. Once selected, she endured a rigorous process of training, testing not only her knowledge and physical capabilities but also her mental strength. In 1993, she served as the mission specialist for the STS-56 mission of the space shuttle Discovery. On her mission, she conducted experiments with her five-member crew studying the interaction between the sun and Earth’s atmosphere. Ochoa has been on four space flights and logged over 950 hours in space, a total of over 40 days. She has been involved in robotics, flight software, and computer hardware development. Ochoa described being in space as somewhat similar to being back in school as it was a constant learning process.
Ochoa has served in many roles: Assistant to the Chief of the Astronaut Office, Lead Spacecraft Communicator in Mission Control, and Acting Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. In 2013, she became the Director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston after serving as the Deputy Director for 6 years and is the first Latina and second woman to become a director. Here, she oversaw Orion, which allowed for the development of exploration on Mars. She retired from her position in 2018 and currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the National Science Board.
Ochoa married Coe Fulmer, a computer research engineer, in 1990, and they have two sons. Her accomplishments are highly regarded by the Hispanic community, and she continues to encourage minority women to pursue their dreams in STEM.
by Jhenesy Lopez Fuentes
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“Ellen Ochoa.” Contemporary Hispanic Biography. Encyclopedia.com. 14 Jul. 2020 . Encyclopedia.com, Encyclopedia.com, 27 July 2020, www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/historians-miscellaneous-biographies/ellen-ochoa.