Ellen Ochoa- First Hispanic Director in NASA

Read about the first Hispanic director of NASA - Dr. Ellen Ochoa - Learn about her magnificent life and achievements throughout her career.

What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but the motivation, perseverance, and desire –the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.” – Ellen Ochoa.

Ellen Ochoa is an experienced astronaut of NASA who has become the first Hispanic director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center(JSC).

She is also the second female director of JSC in Houston, Texas. Her full name was Ellen Lauri Ochoa, and she was also the first Latina in space! So, learn more about the inspiring journey of Ellen. 


Born on May 10, 1958, to Joseph and Rosanne Ochoa, Ellen Ochoa spent her childhood in the La Mesa city of the San Diego County of California.

She was the daughter of Joseph and Rosanne Ochoa. Ellen used to live with her mother, three brothers, and a sister. When she was in her teens, her parents were divorced. However, she was always encouraged to excel in her studies.


She got admission to the prestigious Grossmont High School, the oldest school in San Diego’s east county.

Ellen graduated from high school in 1975 and then thought about making a music career as she was quite an accomplished classical flutist.

Everyone around Ellen suggested making a career in the field of music. However, she ignored all the suggestions and joined the San Diego State University to study physics.

Ellen’s quest for knowledge does not end here. She decided to go for a Master’s degree in science from Stanford University. Ellen Ochoa also earned a doctorate in electrical engineering from the same university in 1985.

Photographer: Lauren Harnett .

It was during her graduation days at Stanford University; she got interested in physics and engineering.

When she was at Stanford University, Sally Ride became the first woman from America to venture into space. This sparked an interest in Ellen Ochoa to apply to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA) to make an entry into its highly competitive astronaut program.


In 1985, Ellen Ochoa started working at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico after earning her doctorate!

She extensively conducted research work using lasers and other devices that can process images, which later proved extremely valuable in space exploration.

Before she can even start her career in NASA, she already got the patent for three optical devices as a co-inventor, reflecting her innate talent and hard work.

Ellen finally found a place in NASA’s final list in 1988, but not as an astronaut. The same year, she also got her private pilot’s license, which helped her get attention from NASA.

She was selected as a research engineer at NASA Ames, which was a research center of NASA.

At NASA Ames, she used to work in the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch. Within two years, she was quickly moved to the Johnson Space Center and was finally selected as an astronaut in 1990 out of nearly 2000 applicants.

Ellen completed her astronaut training in July 1991, and two years later, on April 8, 1993, she was in Space Shuttle Discovery.

She was the first Hispanic woman to achieve this incredible feat and was a part of the five-member crew. You will not believe that she also played flute during her flight!

Dr. Ellen Ochoa traveled into space on several space shuttle missions in 1994, 1999, and 2002. It made her spent approximately 1,000 hours in space.

In her last space mission in 2002, she worked at the remote manipulator system control of the space shuttle’s flight deck.

She became the Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations in 2002, right after returning to the Earth. Ten years later, when she became the Johnson Space Center of NASA director in 2012, she created history by becoming the first Hispanic director and the second woman to lead the center.

In 2018, she became the vice-chairperson of the National Science Board.


In her long career spanning more than three decades, Dr. Ellen Ochoa received multiple organizations’ awards. Apart from the four space flight medals awarded by NASA, she received the following awards.

1992-NASA Space Act Tech Brief Award

1995- Outstanding Leadership Medal

1997-Exceptional Service Medal

2015- National Space Grant Distinguished Service Award

She is also the proud recipient of the Harvard Foundation Science Award, The Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award, Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, Harvard Foundation Science Award, and the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award.

She is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

She served for nearly a decade on the Stanford University Board of Trustees. She was also a respected member of the Stanford School of Engineering Advisory Council and Aeronautics and Astronautics Department Visiting Committee.

In 2017, Dr. Ochoa was inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame and the very next year got a place in the International Air and Space Hall of Fame.

In US, six US schools named after Dr. Ochoa. Ellen got married to Coe Fulmer Miles, a patent attorney from whom she has two sons.










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