Born: October 5, 1958, in Los Angeles, Calif.
Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic-American female astronaut. She flew on four space shuttle missions.
Ochoa grew up in La Mesa, Calif. She graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in physics in 1980. Ochoa went on to graduate school at Stanford University to study electrical engineering. While she was there, Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space. This event sparked Ochoa's interest in becoming an astronaut. She earned her doctorate in 1985. She then applied to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to enter its highly competitive astronaut program.
In the meantime, Ochoa conducted research in optical information systems. She looked for ways to use lasers, holograms, and similar devices to process images. Such object-recognition technology is useful in robotic manufacturing. It also has valuable applications for space exploration. She holds patents as a co-inventor for three optical devices. In 1990, Ochoa was admitted to NASA's astronaut program. She became a mission specialist. Her advanced skills in robotics made her a valued member of the NASA team.
In 1993, Ochoa made her first trip into space. She flew aboard the shuttle Discovery. Its mission was to study the effects of solar activity on Earth's atmosphere. As part of the study, Ochoa released a research satellite using the shuttle's robotic arm. Her next spaceflight was aboard Atlantis in 1994. This time, she used the robotic arm to retrieve a research satellite. Ochoa participated in Discovery's mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 1999. She returned to the ISS on Atlantis in 2002. During these missions, Ochoa logged nearly 1,000 hours in space.
Ochoa is a private pilot. And she is a classical flutist. She even played her flute aboard the space shuttle.
Ochoa often travels to schools to speak to students about her experiences in space. She encourages them to set big goals. "Don't be afraid to reach for the stars," she says. "I believe a good education can take you anywhere on Earth and beyond."