Selected by NASA in 1990, Ellen Ochoa became the world’s first Hispanic female astronaut in 1991.

Ellen Ochoa was born in 1958 and grew up in La Mesa, California, the middle child of five. Neither parent had college degrees, so the Ochoa children’s initial focus was on gaining an education.

Her father served in the Navy and later managed a retail store. He grew up in New Mexico, the youngest of 12 children born to parents Ellen Ochoa who had emigrated from Mexico.  He and his siblings often faced discrimination, and this affected him strongly. (One example involved the public pool. The Hispanics could only swim on the day before it was to be cleaned; the community felt they would make the water dirty.)  As a result, her father wanted his children to assimilate and insisted they not speak Spanish.

Her mother valued family and education. She had no college degree but when Ellen was a baby, her mother began taking college classes.  It took her 22 years but she achieved her goal and received a college degree.  With their mother as a role model, all the Ochoa children pursued their education.

Ochoa graduated from Grossmont High School, La Mesa, California, in 1975. She was a gifted musician (flute player) and considered majoring in music, but ultimately decided to major in physics after she had been discouraged from engineering, which she had been told was “not a woman’s field.” She attended San Diego State University in 1980 and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and a Master of Science degree and Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1981 and 1985, respectively.

In 1985 Dr. Ochoa applied for the NASA Training Program but she was rejected. She continued her work in optics at Sandia and decided to get a pilot’s license as that might be helpful to her. In 1987, she applied again. She was again turned down, but she learned she was among the top 100 of the thousands who had applied.  Her third application in 1990 was accepted. Ochoa became an astronaut in July 1991; after finishing training she was one of 110 astronauts eligible for flight.

She became the first Hispanic woman to go to space when she served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993. She has flown in space four times, including STS-66, STS-96 and STS-110, logging nearly 1,000 hours in orbit.

A mission specialist and flight engineer, Ochoa is a veteran of four space flights, logging more than 950 hours in space. Her technical assignments have included flight software and computer hardware development and robotics development, testing and training. She has served as Assistant for Space Station to the Chief of the Astronaut Office, lead spacecraft communicator in Mission Control and Acting Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. She currently serves as Director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

She is honored to have five schools named after her: the Ellen Ochoa Middle School in Pasco, Washington, the Ellen Ochoa Learning Center in Cudahy, California, the Ellen Ochoa STEM Academy at Ben Milam Elementary in Grand Prairie, Texas, the Amino Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School in Los Angeles, and the Ellen Ochoa Prep Academy in Pico Rivera, California.

Ochoa lives in Texas with her husband, Coe Fulmer Miles, and their two children.

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