A first-generation college graduate, Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go to space in 1993. She later became the first Hispanic and second female director of the Johnson Space Center.
Across four missions to space, Ochoa logged almost 1,000 hours in orbit. During one mission, she brought her flute to space and became the first human to play an instrument in space. She also holds three patents related to her research on optical inspection systems.
A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Ochoa is a recipient of NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal and the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award; six schools bear her name.
“Looking back, every time somebody told me that I couldn’t do something or it probably wasn’t suited for me, or made some comment about women or other underrepresented groups, they were really just revealing [their own] bias. These were people who didn’t know me at all. They hadn’t seen somebody that looked like me before in their department, and just couldn’t really picture me as someone who could do the job.”
Building a Trusted Future
NASA recognized the value of Ochoa’s research on optics and computer hardware to improve data quality and better assess equipment safety and integrity. At NASA, Ochoa has helped study the damaged ozone layer, among other projects.
After overcoming skepticism as an aspiring Hispanic female astronaut, Ochoa frequently visits schools to encourage students across the country, especially in Hispanic communities, to pursue careers in STEM and space exploration.