Biography of Ellen Ochoa

By Radiyah Shakur

Ellen OchoaEllen Ochoa has been where very few of us have gone, or ever will go – space. Not just once, but Dr. Ellen Ochoa is a veteran of three NASA space flight missions; and has logged over 719 hours in space.

Ellen, one of five children, was born in southern California in 1958. She was interested in space exploration as a girl. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) hired its first women astronauts when she was studying physics in college in the 1970’s. Ellen saw the astronaut program as a way of combining her interest in research and engineering with space exploration.

In 1980 she graduated top of her class from San Diego State University with a Bachelor Science Degree in Physics. Ochoa also earned a Masters of Science and a Doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1981 and 1985, respectively. Ellen’s doctoral work in electrical engineering led to co-inventing three patents for optical engineering systems.

In 1990 while working as a research engineer, Dr. Ochoa was chosen by NASA to train as an astronaut at the Johnson Space Center. In April 1993, Ellen became the first Hispanic woman in space on a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery, where the astronauts were studying the Earth's ozone layer. In November 1994, Ellen was payload commander aboard the space shuttle Atlantis. Her most recent mission was a ten- day mission aboard the Discovery in May and June1999.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa has received various accolades for her achievements. NASA has honoured Ochoa with seven awards for outstanding achievement. Other awards she received include: Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award, and in 1999, Ochoa was selected by President Clinton to serve on the Presidential Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History.

Ellen plays the flute, flies planes, and enjoys volleyball, bicycling and speaking to young people about the importance of having a good education background. She and her husband have one son.


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