Hispanic Heritage Month: Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz is from Costa Rica. He was the first Latin-American immigrant astronaut to go into space, flying on 7 Space Shuttle missions.

Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz was the first Hispanic selected by NASA for the astronaut program. According to the space agency, "Chang Díaz became the first Hispanic astronaut when NASA selected him in 1980." He is a veteran of seven space flights: STS-61C in 1986, STS-34 in 1989, STS-46 in 1992, STS-60 in 1994, STS-75 in 1996, STS-91 in 1998, and STS-111 in 2002. He logged more than 1,500 hours in space, including 19 hours during spacewalks. He received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Connecticut in 1973 and a doctorate in applied plasma physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977.

Franklin Chang Diaz was born in San Jose', Costa Rica on April 5, 1950. His father was Costa Rican with Chinese descent. His mother is Costa Rican, Maria Eugenia Diaz Romero. Dr. Chang Diaz has 5 siblings, who all now live in Portland, Oregon. He has four children of his own, Jean Elizabeth and Sonia Rosa. The latter of the two, Sonia Rosa, is a member of the Massachusetts Senate. Dr. Chang Diaz also has two younger daughters, Lidia Aurora and Miranda Karina.

Dr. Chang Diaz attended the Colegio de La Salle in San Jose', before moving to the United States to complete his education at Hartford Public High School. After graduating from Hartford, Dr. Chang Diaz attended the University of Connecticut, earning a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering, graduating in 1973.

After graduation, Chang Diaz attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), earning a Ph.D in plasma physics. For his graduate research, Dr. Chang Diaz worked in the field of fusion technology and plasma based rocket propulsion.

In 1980, Dr. Chang Diaz was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA. His first flight was in 1986, aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia for STS-61-C. He would fly on several more space shuttle missions; STS-34, 1989, Atlantis; STS-46, 1992, Atlantis; STS-60, 1994, Discovery; STS-75, 1996, Columbia; STS-91, 1998, Discovery; STS-111, 2002, Endeavor. Dr. Chang Diaz traveled into space during 3 decades; 1980s, 1990s, 2000s.

In late 1982, Dr. Chang Diaz was designated as support crew for the first Spacelab mission and, in November 1983, served as in-orbit Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) during that flight. From October 1984 to August1995, he was leader of the astronaut support team at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. His duties included astronaut support during the processing of the various vehicles and payloads as well as flight crew support during the final phases of the launch countdown. He has logged more than 1,800 hours of flight time, including 1,500 hours in jet aircraft. Dr. Chang-Díaz was instrumental in implementing closer ties between the astronaut corps and the scientific community. In January 1987, he started the Astronaut Science Colloquium Program and later helped form the Astronaut Science Support Group, which he directed until January 1989.

On STS-11, Dr. Chang Diaz performed three extra-vehicular activities (EVAs), along with astronaut Philippe Perrin as part of the construction of the International Space Station (ISS). Later, he became the director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center from 1993-2005, retiring in 2005.

In 1986, Franklin Chang Díaz was one of twelve recipients of the Medal of Liberty. He was inducted into the NASA Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 5, 2012 in a ceremony that took place in the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Also, due to his career and scientific success, he has been decorated multiple times in Costa Rica and named Honor Citizen by the national legislature. The Costa Rican National High Technology Center (CeNAT), among other institutions, is named after him. In 2014, Chang Díaz was awarded the "Buzz Aldrin Quadrennial Space Award" by The Explorers Club. Buzz Aldrin, whom Chang Díaz called a childhood hero, presented the award.

The above information was gathered from NASA, Wikipedia and other sources.