An Inspiring Woman In Space And On The Ground

From last week’s strong Mohawk woman of the revolutionary war era we’re coming forward hundreds of years. This week’s Women’s History Month spotlight is on an inspiring woman in space and on the ground, Ellen Ochoa. Ms. Ochoa, a Hispanic-American Woman, made history in our lifetime. Engineer, inventor, astronaut, and administrator, she is a champion of and for women.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Director of Johnson Space Center and an inspiring woman
Official portrait of JSC Center Director Ellen Ochoa. Photographer: Bill Stafford
Public Domain

“We do a disservice to society as a whole, if we are not providing the same kinds of encouragement to women to contribute as we do to men.”

– Ellen Ochoa

Early Life

Ochoa’s paternal grandparents immigrated from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona. They later moved to California where Ochoa’s father, Joseph, was born. Ellen Ochoa was born May 10, 1958 in Los Angeles, California, U.S. Her parents were Joseph and Rosanne (née Deardorf) Ochoa.

She loved math and science in school, even if other kids looked down on her for that. She played the flute and wanted to be a musician.

Like many of us, she watched the moon landing. She was eleven. It never occurred to her to want to be an astronaut. There were no female astronauts then.

Astronaut descending ladder for Apollo 11 moon landing
Photo credit: NASA

Education

Ochoa’s parents divorced while she attended  Grossmont High School in El Cajon. She graduated from San Diego State University, Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1980. She earned a master’s degree in science in 1981 at  Stanford Department of Electrical Engineering. And in 1985, she achieved her doctorate at Stanford.

“I know myself how important it is to see somebody else doing that someone that maybe you have something in common with or can relate to in some way.”

Ellen Ochoa

Inspired

Ochoa was 25 when she saw NASA’s first female astronaut in space, Sally Ride. Ms. Ride was an engineer. And she’d studied at Stanford. Ochoa decided she wanted to be an astronaut, too. They rejected her first application. So she got another job and kept working toward her goal.

Inherently, women and men are of equal worth, have equal amounts to contribute and we absolutely need to make sure that we are getting those contributions from women.

Ellen Ochoa

Inventor

Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at Ames Research Center At Ames, she led a research group. They worked on optical systems for automated space exploration. She patented an optical system to detect defects in a repeating pattern. And she is a co-inventor on three additional patents.

First Hispanic Woman In Space

Image of Astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa, an inspiring woman

Selected by NASA in January 1991, Ochoa became an astronaut in July of that year. She served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993 and became the first Hispanic woman in space.

Astronaut Ochoa playing the flute in space

A mission specialist on STS-56 (1993), she was also a payload commander on STS-66. Then she was a mission specialist and flight engineer on STS-96 and STS-110 in 2002.

A member of the Presidential Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History, Ochoa carried a special item on STS-96. Above, mission specialists (l.-r.) Ellen Ochoa, Julie Payette and Tamara Jernigan float together in the International Space Station with the gold, white and purple suffrage banner from the National Woman’s Party. This actual banner was used early in the century (around 1916-1920) as women fought for the right to vote. 

Ochoa logged more than 950 hours in space. And if that’s not an inspiring woman…

Another First

Ochoa retired from spacecraft operations and became Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center. On January 1, 2013, Ochoa became the first Hispanic and second female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Awards and Recognitions

Ochoa has won many awards. She’s received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, the Outstanding Leadership Medal, and four Space Flight Medals.

Ochoa’s Advice

“You don’t have to wait until you’re older to make an impact on other people’s lives.” Ellen Ochoa

“If you are interested in something, you still need to learn other things,” she said. “Try hard if you want to do it.”

Ochoa to the Scholastic Kids Press Corps

More About Ochoa

Ochoa retired from federal service as Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in 2018. She became vice chair of the National Science Board, which runs the National Science Foundation.  

Besides being an astronaut, researcher, and engineer, Ochoa is a classical flutist.

She lives in Texas with her husband, Coe Fulmer Miles, and their two children. 

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at an inspiring woman in space and on the ground, Dr. Ellen Ochoa. You might want to read about 30 other inspiring women or a spy who may not have been one. Or sign up for my newsletter for information on my next novel featuring strong women characters.

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