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First Latina in Space 

Trailblazer of the Day | Friday, September 13, 2013

Ellen Ochoa

1958 -
First Latina in Space

Twenty years ago, Ellen Ochoa became the first Latina in space when she blasted off in Space Shuttle Discovery for the first of four flights. She logged more than 1,000 hours in orbit.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Ochoa studied physics at San Diego State University, then earned a Master’s and PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford. She also played flute in the Stanford Symphony. She began NASA training in 1990, and by 1993 was ready for lift-off.

“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire - the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.”

Ochoa made history on April 8, 1993, when Discovery set off on a nine-day, 148-orbit mission. She was responsible for operating the robotic arm to deploy a satellite. During this and three future voyages, she studied the Earth’s ozone layer and solar wind.

An expert in optics and space robotics, Ochoa has three patents of her inventions and will be further honored in Governor Quinn’s upcoming Exhibit (Latino Heritage Month: Inventors, Scientists, Innovators) opening October 7. Ochoa is now Director of the Johnson Space Center (the first Hispanic and second woman to serve as Director) in Texas.

While Ochoa was the first Latino woman in space, she was not the first Latino. Other trailblazers include: Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez (a Cuban fighter pilot who flew in the Soviet Soyuz in 1980), Rodolfo Neri Vela (a Mexican scientist aboard the 1985 Space Shuttle), and Franklin Chang-Diaz (an astronaut of Chinese and Costa Rican heritage who flew seven Space Shuttle missions).