Dr Ellen Ochoa, a Mexican-American scientist with a PhD in electrical engineering, was the first Latina in space. Twenty-four years later, on May 19 2017, having already been awarded NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, she’ll be inducted into the USA Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Dr Ochoa was raised by her single mother and four siblings. Her parents faced intense racism while they were growing up in Arizona, USA. Her father Joseph “felt the sting of rampant discrimination against Hispanics, for example Hispanics were only allowed to use the public pool the day before cleaning because it was felt they dirtied the pool.”
Despite this her family was resilient. Dr Ochoa’s mother Roseanne inspired her daughter’s love of learning, having completed her own education two decades after she stopped due to family commitments.
Dr Ochoa says of her upcoming recognition: “I’m honoured to be recognised 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.”
In an earlier interview for a Latin students’ paper, Dr Ochoa emphasises a love for mathematics, her bilingualism and interests in music as assets to her joining the space program. She has been Director of the Johnson Space Centre since 2013.
Learn about Dr Ochoa’s family and see photos of her growing up.
Read her advice to Latin youth.
[Photo: Headshot of Dr Ochoa wearing a NASA helmet in the pilot’s seat of an aircraft.]