Dr. Ellen Ochoa: Engineer, astronaut, Director of JSC.
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Runnels County Register will be posting articles on influential and heroic Hispanics through October.
Dr. Ellen Ochoa is an engineer, former astronaut and former director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She was born in Los Angeles, CA on May 10, 1958, and has, by any measure, led a full life. Her parents are Joseph and Rosanne Ochoa. Her maternal grandparents immigrated from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona and later to California.
Dr. Ochoa was the first Hispanic director of the Johnson Space Center and its second female director. She also held other positions within NASA, prior to becoming director. Those positions included astronaut, Deputy Center Director and Director of Flight Crew Operations.
After graduating high school in 1975, Ochoa earned her bachelor of science degree in physics from San Diego State University. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Dr. Ochoa then earned a master of science degree and a doctorate from Stanford Department of Engineering in 1981 and 1985, respectively.
In 1988, Ochoa joined NASA as a research engineer at the Ames Research Center. Ochoa moved to the Johnson Space Center in 1990.
On April 8, 1993, Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman in space when she launched as part of the 5-astronaut crew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-56. The primary payload of the flight was the Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science-2 (ATLAS-2), designed to collect data on the relationship between the sun's energy output and Earth's middle atmosphere and how these factors affect the ozone layer.
Dr. Ochoa would travel into space on three more shuttle missions: November 3, 1994 aboard Atlantis for STS-66; June 6, 1999, aboard Discovery for STS-96 and on STS-110, aboard Atlantis, which launched on April 8, 2002. Dr. Ochoa has spent almost 1,000 hours in space.
In addition to her work as an astronaut, Dr. Ocha has been a research engineer at Sandia National Laboratories. Dr. Ochoa served as the Vice Chair of the National Science Board from 2018-2020. She currently chairs the committee evaluating nominations for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
Ochoa has been recognized with NASA's highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award for senior executives in the federal government.
Dr. Ochoa has received many other awards and has six schools named for her. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and serves on several boards. For her work at the Johnson Space Center, Dr. Ochoa was Hispanic Executives magazine’s 2017 Best of Boardroom issue.
In 2017, Dr. Ochoa was inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame. In 2018, she was inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame.