Ellen Ochoa, a former astronaut, engineer, and director of the Johnson Space Center, was born in the United States on May 10, 1958. She was the second female director of a Space Center. Ochoa made history in 1993 when she completed a nine-day trip on board of the Orbit Shuttle Discovery to become the first Hispanic woman in space. Ochoa took over as the center's director on December 31, 2012, when Michael Coats announced his retirement.
As Director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, which oversees the nation's human space flight program, Ellen Ochoa retired from the federal government in 2018. She is a skilled astronaut who has participated in four space shuttle missions as a crew member in several capacities, including conducting scientific operations on board, operating the robotic arm, and acting as flight engineer throughout the mission's launch, rendezvous, and entry phases. Dr. Ochoa supervised the Flight Crew Operations Directorate, which included the astronaut office and the aircraft operations divisions, before being named Center Director. She served as Deputy Center Director for five years before that.
Dr. Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to become an astronaut, has spoken at more than 300 events about the value of STEM education. She has six schools named after her, numerous books for 8th graders published on her, and has been featured in textbooks and on websites aimed at enticing women and people of colour to pursue technical careers. She has received numerous honours, including the Presidential Distinguished Rank of the Senior Executive Service, the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest honour given by NASA, and honorary doctorates from six universities. Ochoa belongs to the member of National Science Board's 2016-2022 class.
Childhood and Education
Ellen, gifted in several areas and well-rounded, needed help to choose a profession. She had played the flute since she was young and planned to major in music in college. But since all of Ellen's high school mathematics classmates were studying science and engineering, she thought about switching to physics as a hobby.
More importantly, Ellen loved physics and math and wished to apply her knowledge of both subjects to answer problems about the universe. She was raised in La, and her father was born in California after her paternal grandparents left Sonora, Mexico, for Arizona. She was raised in La Mesa, California. Ochoa was one of five children, the middle child, and neither of his parents had a college degree.
Ochoa finished his education at El Cajon's Grossmont High School in 1975. When she was a high school senior and her parents divorced, she moved in with her mother and brothers. She then went to Stanford University's Department of Electrical Engineering, earning her master's and Ph.D. degrees in 1981 and 1985, respectively.
She discovered her passion for physics, math, and engineering while attending San Diego State University and finally chose to major in physics.
The Journey of a Future Inventor
Ellen's interest in physics and engineering began to increase. At the same time, she was a graduate student at Stanford University, and she started working on optics research, which involves examining the behaviour and properties of light. Ellen even managed to patent part of her graduate work, which was just the start of her success in optics research and obtaining patents.
Ellen applied to NASA to become an astronaut after graduating from Stanford. While applying to become an astronaut, Ellen continued her optics research at the NASA Ames Research Center and the Sandia National Laboratories, where she could add her name as a co-inventor to two more patents.
The Astronaut Recruitment Process
Ellen is a successful entrepreneur and a possible astronaut who came close to being selected by NASA in 1987. Before being chosen to be a NASA astronaut in 1990, Ellen maintained her work in optical research, developed a few other interests, and even obtained her private pilot's license.
Ellen became the first Hispanic woman astronaut for NASA and thanks to her self-assurance and perseverance. Ellen has participated in four space missions as an astronaut. With each voyage, Ellen used her engineering and physics expertise to research various topics, from space station design to changes in the atmosphere.
"I am dedicated to space travel, human exploration, and mastering new skills. I enjoy that it is far bigger than me and significant to my nation and the rest of the world. I like that I can help this way," Ellen says.
Life After Space
Being in space for almost a thousand hours is incredible and Ellen will never forget her experiences there. Ellen began working on space exploration from Earth after her final space flight in 2002. She managed NASA programs ranging from student outreach to space missions, using all the physics, engineering, and computing knowledge she had accumulated over the years.
Ochoa now has leadership positions on several boards, including the National Science Board, and she chairs the committee responsible for selecting candidates for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
As mentioned earlier, Ochoa researched information processing optical systems at Stanford while working on his doctorate. She then researched at the NASA Ames Research Center and Sandia National Laboratories. She oversaw a research team at the NASA Ames Research Center that focused on optical technologies for automated space exploration.
At Sandia National Laboratories, she used her understanding of optics to contribute to studying nuclear weapons. She also had a patent for an optical system to detect flaws in a repeating pattern.
Ochoa was drawn to optical systems and devoted himself to enhancing their information processing applications. Ochoa looked into optical technologies for processing information. A method for optical object detection, an optical inspection system, and a method for picture noise removal are all covered by three patents on which she is a co-inventor.
When she was selected as a member of the astronaut class of 1990, they summoned her back for another interview at the next selection. To gain practical experience, she also got her pilot's license. NASA selected Ochoa in January 1990 and in July 1991, she was given the astronaut rank. She had technical responsibilities as the Chief Astronaut Office's assistant for the Space Station, the crew representative for flight software, computer hardware, and robotics, and the Deputy Chief Astronaut Office.
The Earth's ozone layer was the focus of the Shuttle mission's research. Ochoa, a veteran of four space missions, has spent almost a thousand hours in orbit. On STS-56 in 1993, she served as a mission specialist. On STS-66, she was the payload commander. Ochoa was in Mission Control during the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy and was among the first employees to learn from television reports that Columbia was exploding.
Ochoa served as the Deputy Director of NASA's Johnson Space Center beginning in 2007, following her retirement from spacecraft operations, and assisted in overseeing and managing the Astronaut Office and Aircraft Operations. Ochoa was appointed as the Johnson Space Center's second female and first Hispanic director on January 1, 2013.
Ochoa was chosen as the National Science Board's vice chairperson from 2018 to 2020. She presently serves as the committee's chair and oversees the selection of candidates for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
Coe Miles, an attorney specializing in intellectual property, is Ochoa's husband and has two children. Both of them are boys. Ochoa, a classical flutist, once won the Student Soloist Award while performing with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra. While as a San Diego State University student, she played the flute for two years in the school marching band and five years in the university wind ensemble. She brought a flute on her maiden space journey.
The Ellen Ochoa Middle School is situated in Pasco, Washington. Ochoa has received numerous awards from NASA, including the Space Flight Medal, Outstanding Leadership Medal, Exceptional Service Medal, and Distinguished Service Medal. Ochoa and Michael Foale have been formally inducted into the American Astronaut Hall of Fame's 2017 class. Ochoa was honoured for her commitment to her position as a board director for Johnson Space Center in Hispanic Executive 2017's Best of the Boardroom issue. Ochoa is a Fellow of Optica, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the National Academy of Inventors. In the 2019 episode, Ochoa made an appearance as an animated figure.
In conclusion, Dr. Ellen Ochoa's drive and resiliency are the two most important qualities that have helped her get to where she is. She has pursued her goals without letting prejudice or detractors stop her. She advises young people to never give up on their aspirations and that achieving them requires a strong work ethic.