Finding her way to engineering through a love of mathematics, Dr. Ellen Ochoa earned a doctorate in electrical engineering and continued her research in the private sector before being hired at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
In 1991 she was formally announced as an astronaut for NASA making her the first Hispanic woman to be selected to fly into space. During her first mission aboard the Discovery in 1993 she used the remote manipulator system, or RMS, robotic arm to deploy and capture the Spartan satellite.
As the payload commander aboard the Atlantis in 1994, she used the RMS again this time to retrieve the CRISTA-SPAS atmospheric research satellite. Her next flight was in 1999 on the shuttle Discovery during a ten day mission that included the first docking to the International Space Station where responsibilities on this flight included coordination of the transfer of supplies and operation of the RMS during an 8-hour spacewalk.
Her final flight into space was a 2002 mission which visited the ISS delivering the S0 (S-zero) Truss that Dr. Ochoa along with two other crew members installed using the station’s robotic arm. Logging nearly 1000 hours in orbit Ochoa returned to Earth and continued her career at NASA including being appointed Deputy Director of flight crew operations in 2002. It was just a few months later that tragedy struck with the destruction of the shuttle Columbia and the loss of its crew during reentry. For Ochoa is was important to use this event as a catalyst to ask the hard questions about how the mission management team worked together in addition to the technical questions of returning to space.
It was announced in 2012 that Dr. Ochoa would become the Director of the Johnson Space Center–the second woman and first Hispanic to fill this role. As the director she wants us to learn as much as we can from the space environment including the economic, technological, and potential medical benefits. She also enjoys speaking to groups of students and encourages young women to explore science as a career.
Written by Angela Goad