Melissa Amador

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Melissa Amador


Ellen Ochoa struggled to become the first Hispanic woman in space. While growing up she discovered her passion for music, mathematics, and science. She aspired a degree in the sciences, specifically physics, because her professor once told her that it wouldn’t do her any good to pursue a career in a male-dominated field. She applied to be accepted into the NASA astronaut program and was declined several times. She was finally accepted in 1990 and became the first Latina ever chosen for this elite group and continue her training to become an official astronaut.

Ellen Ochoa was a part of four space missions: STS-56 ATLAS-2 Discovery, STS-66 Atlantis Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science-3 mission, STS-96, and the STS-110 Atlantis. She is now the director of the Johnson Space Center, where she became another first. Ellen Ochoa is the first Latina female director and the second female director of the Johnson Space Center.

Table of Contents

What is NASA?

Ellen Ochoa Background

Experience Before Space Missions

Ellen’s Space Missions

Space Missions: Description

Currently Happening

Special Honors

Chronological Timeline

What is NASA?

NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA is responsible for the science and technology related to air and space. The agency was created in 1958 when the Space Age began, after the launch of Sputnik took place. NASA was to oversee U.S. pace exploration and any research surrounding aeronautics. The work that NASA conducts expands from just sending astronauts into space. The astronauts who do go into space conduct scientific research while they orbit in the space station. The satellites sent into orbit around Earth, help discover and learn new things about Earth. Space probes are sent into space to study our solar system and those beyond. NASA continues to strive for exploration and discovery of the unknown that surrounds our planet.

Ellen Ochoa Background

Ellen Ochoa was born in Los Angeles, California on May 10, 1958, but she considers La Mesa, California to be her hometown. Her mother is Rosanne Deardorff and her father is Joseph Ochoa. Her education consists of graduating from Grossmont High School in La Mesa, California in 1975, as valedictorian. After graduating, she was offered to attend Stanford University on a scholarship for all 4 years, but turned them down when she realized she would not be able to cover all expenses outside of tuition, and instead enrolled in San Diego State University. When Ellen began classes at San Diego University, she had no clear path about her future and career.

A musical career appealed to her, journalism also perked her interest. Ellen ended up changing her major 5 times during her college years, settling on a major in the science department: physics. She decided to pursue this career because her professor told her that engineering would be too difficult a career for women; it was a man’s world. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics from San Diego State University in 1980.

After she graduated, she still had no clear path about her future, even with her science degree. Her mother, Rosanne Ochoa, convinced her daughter to make the decision to attend Stanford University as a graduate student. Upon her arrival to Stanford University, Ellen became interested in a field of physics she never would’ve thought of: optics. Optics is the study of light. Her pursuit of obtaining a higher education continued when she received her Master of Science Degree and a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering both from Stanford University in 1981 and 1985.

Experience Before Space Missions

While Ellen Ochoa was a doctoral student at Stanford, she investigated optical systems for performing information processing. Ellen Ochoa worked on an optical system to guide robots in space. This particular system gave the robots the ability to find and identify objects. During this time, she was gaining praise as a classical flutist, never giving up on her musical gift. She performed a solo with the symphony orchestra at Stanford.

When Ellen Ochoa received her doctorate she was a member of the Optical Society of America and the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. She continued as a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories and the NASA Ames Research Center. Dr. Ochoa is a co-inventor of three optical systems. She worked on an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method and a method for noise removal in images. Dr. Ochoa became the Chief of the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch at Ames. While she was in that position she supervised 35 engineers and scientists in the research and development of computational systems for aerospace missions. Ochoa was recognized as an expert in optics and computers, she gave talks at technical conventions and also wrote articles for scientific journals.

Ellen’s Space Missions

After receiving her pilot license, Dr. Ochoa was chosen by NASA to become an astronaut on January 1990 with 22 others on her team, she was the first Latina ever chosen for this select group. After her training she officially became an astronaut in July 1991. Her assignments in the Astronaut Office included a variety of technical jobs: Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) in Mission Control, Acting Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office, Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations, and later on Director of Flight Crew Operations. While she was part of the Flight Crew Operations she managed and directed the Astronaut Office and Aircraft Operations. Dr. Ochoa’s space flight experience includes the STS-56 ATLAS-2 Discovery, STS-66 Atlantis Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science-3 mission, STS-96, and the STS-110 Atlantis; logging a total of 978 hours in space.

Space Missions: Description

The STS-56 ATLAS-2 Discovery was in space from April 4 to April 17, 1993. This space mission was a 9-day mission, in which the crew conducted atmospheric and solar studies in order to better understand the effect of solar activity on the Earth’s climate and its environment. Dr. Ochoa used the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) robotic arm to deploy and capture the Spartan satellite, which was used to study solar corana.

Dr. Ochoa was the Payload Commander on the STS-66 Atlantis Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science-3 mission from November 3-14, 1994. As Payload Commander, Dr. Ochoa was in charge of the coordination of all experiments that are carried out during the space mission. ATLAS-3 was to study the energy of the sun during an 11-year solar cycle and to learn how changes in the sun’s irradiance affect the earth’s climate and environment. Dr. Ochoa used to robotic arm to retrieve CRISTA-SPAS (Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the Atmosphere-Shuttle Pallet Satellite) at the end of its 8-day free flight.

STS-96 Discovery took place from May 27 to June 6, 1999. This space mission was to take place on the span of 10-days, in which the crew performed the first docking to the International Space Station, and delivered 4 tons of logistics and supplies in preparation for the arrival of the first space crew that were to live in the station. Dr. Ellen Ochoa coordinated the transfer of the supplies and also operated the RMS during the space walk.

STS-110 Atlantis occurred on April 8 through the 19th in the year 2002. Milestones for this 11-day mission included: the delivery and installation of the SO Truss; the first time the Station’s robotic arm was used to maneuver spacewalkers around the Station; and the first time that all of the crew spacewalkers were based from the Station’s Quest Airlock.

Currently Happening

Ellen Ochoa is now considered a veteran astronaut, and is now the 11th director of the Johnson Space Center. Before being named director, she served the center as deputy director for 5 years. Ochoa Johnson Space Center’s first Latina director, and is also the second female director of the space center.

Special Honors

  • Honored with the Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for outstanding technical contribution to humanity and the most prominent engineer in government award.

  • Recognized with NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.

  • Recognized with Exceptional Service Medal.

  • Recognized with Outstanding Leadership Medal.

  • Received four Space Flight Medals.

  • Received the Harvard Foundation Science Award

  • Received Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award

  • Received the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award

  • Received the San Diego State University Alumna of the Year

  • Received the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Medallion of Excellence Role Model Award

  • Has four schools named for her: the Ellen Ochoa Middle School in Pasco, Washington; the Ellen Ochoa Learning Center in Cudahy, California; the Ellen Ochoa STEM Academy at Ben Milam Elementary in Grand Prairie, Texas; and the Amino Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School in Los Angeles.

Chronological Order

1958: Ellen Lauri Ochoa born in Los Angeles, California, on May 10.

1959: Moves with family to La Mesa, California.

1975: Graduated from Grossmont High School as valedictorian.

1980: Graduates from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics.

1981: Receives a Master of Science degree from Stanford University in electrical engineering.

1985: Receives a doctorate from Stanford University in electrical engineering. Works at Sandia National Laboratories.

1987: Receives first of three patents in optical research.

1988: Works at Ames Research Center.

1990: Chosen by NASA for astronaut training. Marries Coe Fulmer Miles.

1991: Completes NASA training. Becomes first Latina astronaut.

1993: First flight into space as mission specialist on STS-56 Discovery space shuttle. Operates robotic arm on nine-day mission to study sun and earth atmosphere.

1994: Second flight into space as mission specialist and payload commander on STS-66 Atlantis space shuttle. Operates robotic arm on eleven-day mission for further study of atmosphere.

1995-1998: Becomes mother of two sons, Wilson and Jordan.

1999: Third flight on STS-96 Discovery space shuttle. Docking with International Space Station to load supplies.

2002: Fourth flight aboard STS-110 Atlantis space shuttle to build more structures at the ISS. Named deputy director of flight crew operations at Johnson Space Center.

2006: Becomes director of flight crew operations at Johnson Space Center.

Works Cited

“Who’s Where.” Aviation Week & Space Technology 174.43 (2012): 12. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

“Top Latinas.” Hispanic 18.6/7 (2005): 30-34. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

“NASA History.” Congressional Digest 90.7 (2011): 196-224. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Nov. 2014

Posada-Swafford, Angela. “A Place In The Stars.” Hispanic 16.6 (2003): 28. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Sullivan, Morgan. “Astronaut.” Science Teacher 72.2 (2005): 60-61. Education Source. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

“Reaching For The Stars.” Hispanic 22.4 (2009): 64. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Munks, Anna. “Flutes In Space.” Flute (20454074) 30.3 (2011): 33-34. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Nov. 2014

Ochoa, Ellen. “Education…The Stepping Stones To The Stars. (Cover Story).” Hispanic Times Magazine 25.1 (2002): 24. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 Nov 2014.

“Astronaut Bio: Ellen Ochoa (3/2014).” Astronaut Bio: Ellen Ochoa (3/2014). Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Dunbar, Brian. NASA. NASA. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Dunbar, Brian. “Johnson Space Center Director Dr. Ellen Ochoa.” NASA. NASA. Web. 16 Nov. 2014

Schraff, Anne E. Ellen Ochoa: Astronaut and Inventor. Berkeley Heighs, NJ: Enslow, 2010. Print.
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