Iconic Hispanic Angelenos in History: Ellen Ochoa

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 through October 15, join us as we celebrate the Hispanic individuals that have influenced culture, social justice, and progress in Los Angeles and, in some instances, the nation. Check back often as we highlight a new iconic Hispanic Angeleno throughout the month.


Today we celebrate Ellen Ochoa:

A four time veteran of NASA's Space Shuttle missions, Ellen Ochoa earns a place in the history books for her interstellar achievements alone. But as the first Hispanic woman in the world to fly into space, her influence can be felt far beyond the spaces of the astronautical world.

Born in Los Angeles in 1958, Ochoa spent most of her childhood in La Mesa, California near San Diego. Growing up in a single-parent household where the importance of education was emphasized above anything else, Ochoa credits her mother for inspiring her to succeed. She received a B.S. degree in physics from San Diego State University, and later a Masters and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University -- all while earning recognition as a distinguished classical flautist.

Ochoa's career with NASA began with a big bang as she developed three patents in optical systems soon after joining the Ames Research Center. Since there were no female astronauts to look up to while growing up, she had never dreamed of becoming an astronaut -- but her mind-expanding time in graduate school changed all that. She first applied to become an astronaut in 1985, while continuing her quest for science and adventure by developing more patents in optics and earning a pilot license.

In 1990 space came calling. Ochoa was selected by NASA to join their astronaut program - becoming the first Hispanic woman in history to do so. After more than a year of training, she officially became an astronaut in July 1991. Beginning with her mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993, she has participated in six space shuttle missions: four as part of the flight crew, and two as part ground control.

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With the conclusion of the Space Shuttle program, the most recognizable face of the space program becomes a relic of the past -- and the dream of becoming an astronaut may fade away. But as evidenced by the wave of enthusiasm that followed Space Shuttle Endeavour's final mission through Los Angeles, the appeal of space travel seems to be deeply lodged in our hearts. And former astronauts like Ellen Ochoa, who is now Deputy Director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, will forever be a hero to us all.

  • First Hispanic woman to travel to space
  • Logged more than 950 hours working and living in space
  • Co-inventor of three patents relating to optical systems
  • Four-time member of the Space Shuttle crew, aboard Discovery and Atlantis
  • Worked in Mission Control during the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
  • Recipient of many honors, including Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, the Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity, and the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award
  • An accomplished flautist, she was an award-winning soloist with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra

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