American engineer and former astronaut, Ellen Ochoa is the Director of the Johnson Space Center. Selected by NASA in 1990, Ochoa is the also the first Hispanic woman to go into space, not just from the US, but from anywhere in the world.
A classically trained flutist and California native, Ochoa holds a doctorate degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University. While at Stanford, she researched optical systems for use in information processing. At the NASA Ames Research Center, she was an integral part of a research group working on establishing optical systems that automate space exploration. As though being the first Hispanic woman to go into space were not accomplishment enough, Ochoa went on to explore space repeatedly, eventually logging nearly 1,000 hours of space travel. Amazingly, she is now a veteran of four space missions. Her additional space missions include:
- STS-56 ATLAS-2 Discovery (1993)
- STS-66 Atlantis (1994
- STS-96 Discovery (1999)
- STS-110 Atlantis (2002)
Ochoa has received many awards and honors. Among them are the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, Outstanding Leadership Medal, and an amazing four Space Flight Medals. She holds a patent for an optical system to detect defects in a repeating pattern and is a co-inventor of three patents for an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a method for noise removal in images. Essentially, her inventions make it possible for computers to “see.” The engineer describes her patents and inventions as “ways for a computer to find a particular object within an image. This system could be used in manufacturing such as inspecting for flaws, or it might be used on a space vehicle such as the rover. In the case of space flight, the goal is for the computer to be able to locate and land the vehicle at a particular spot.”
As a college student, Ellen struggled to choose a career in physics or one in engineering. She consulted professors of both. Upon being told by her engineering professor that the field was too hard for girls, she set her sights on proving him wrong. A huge proponent of education, she says, “I tell students that the opportunities I had were a result of having a good educational background. Education is what allows you to stand out.”
On her induction into the Astronauts Hall of Fame, she says, “I’m honored to be recognized among generations of astronauts who were at the forefront of exploring our universe for the benefit of humankind. I hope to continue to inspire our nation’s youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math so they, too, may reach for the stars.” By following her engineering dreams, she made history and changed the world. Ellen Ochoa is a glowing example of what inner strength and self-belief coupled with dedication and hard work can do. She is a hero and role model for women of all ethnicities. Simply following your heart and your own beliefs can help you out of this world results.