Franklin Chang-Díaz was the first Hispanic-American astronaut. The Costa Rican-born physicist completed seven space missions for NASA.
Chang-Díaz was born on April 5, 1950 in San José, Costa Rica. His father was of Chinese heritage and his mother was Costa Rican. Chang-Díaz hoped to become an astronaut and a U.S. citizen, and he grew up to achieve both dreams.
Chang-Díaz completed high school in Costa Rica, and left his family at the age of 18 to study in the United States. He enrolled as a senior in Hartford Public High School in Connecticut to learn English. After graduating in 1969, he went on to study mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut and graduated in 1973. Chang-Díaz completed a Doctorate in applied plasma physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977.
NASA selected Chang-Díaz — one of just 19 other candidates pulled from a pool of 3,000 — to join the space program in 1980. He participated in his first space mission on the Columbia in 1996. Chang-Díaz traveled into space on six other spaceflights, including on the shuttle Endeavor. He space walked to the International Space Station to deliver research equipment to the platform and repair the station’s robotic arm in 2002. After logging more than 1600 hours in space, he retired as an astronaut in 2005. He was inducted into the NASA Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2012.
After retiring, Chang-Díaz became a space entrepreneur. He found the company Ad Astra Rocket, which develops space technology known as the VASIMR® plasma engine and has operations in both Texas and Costa Rica. Chang-Díaz also teaches physics and astronomy at the university level. He aims to develop education, science, space, and technology research initiatives in Latin America.
In 1984, Chang-Díaz married Peggy Marguerite Doncaster from Alexandria, Louisiana. They have four daughters. Most of Chang-Díaz’s extended family still resides in Costa Rica.