Ellen Ochoa
Ochoa in 2002
Born (1958-05-10) May 10, 1958 (age 65)
Alma mater
OccupationDirector Johnson Space Center
Space career
NASA astronaut
Time in space
41d 19h 35m m
Selection1990 NASA Group
MissionsSTS-56, STS-66, STS-96, STS-110
Mission insignia

Ellen Ochoa (born May 10, 1958) is an American engineer, former astronaut and former director of the Johnson Space Center.[1] In 1993, Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go to space when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.[2] Ochoa became director of the center upon the retirement of the previous director, Michael Coats, on December 31, 2012.[3] She was the first Hispanic director and the second female director of Johnson Space Center.

Early life and education

Ellen Lauri Ochoa was born on May 10, 1958, in Los Angeles, California[4] to Joseph and Rosanne (née Deardorff) Ochoa. Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona and later to California where her father was born.[5] She grew up in La Mesa, California.[1] Ochoa was the middle child of five and neither parent had college degrees. [6]

Ochoa graduated from Grossmont High School in El Cajon in 1975. Her parents divorced when she was in high school and she lived with her mother and her brothers.[7]

Ochoa received a bachelor of science degree in physics from San Diego State University and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1980, before earning a master of science degree and a doctorate from Stanford Department of Electrical Engineering in 1981 and 1985, respectively.[8] During her time at San Diego State University she found that she loved physics, math, and engineering; ultimately, deciding to major in physics and electrical engineering from Stanford. [6]



As a doctoral student at Stanford, and later as a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories and the NASA Ames Research Center, Ochoa investigated optical systems for performing information processing.[1] At the NASA Ames Research Center, she led a research group working primarily on optical systems for automated space exploration.[1] At Sandia National Laboratories, she applied what she knew about optics to the research being done on nuclear weapons.[6] She patented an optical system to detect defects in a repeating pattern and is a co-inventor on three patents for an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a method for noise removal in images.[9][10][11]

Ochoa was enticed by optical systems and committed to improving its applications for performing information processing. She wanted to help computers "see". NASA later recognized her methods in optics could be used in fabricating such as inspecting for flaws, or it might be used on a space vehicle such as the Rover. [12]

As Chief of the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch at Ames, she supervised 35 engineers and scientists in the research and development of computational systems for aerospace missions. Ochoa has presented numerous papers at technical conferences and in scientific journals.[13]


Ellen Ochoa aboard Space Shuttle Discovery during mission STS-56.

In 1985, Dr. Ochoa sent in an application for the NASA Astronaut program, which was considered during the 1987 selection process. She got to interview but wasn’t selected. She kept her application updated, and also got a pilot’s license to gain operational experience, and she was invited to interview again during the next selection, when she was selected as part of the 1990 class of astronauts. [6]

Ochoa was selected by NASA in January 1990 and became an astronaut in July 1991.[1] Her technical assignments in the Astronaut Office included serving as the crew representative for flight software, computer hardware and robotics, Assistant for Space Station to the Chief of the Astronaut Office, lead spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) in Mission Control and acting as Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office.[1]

Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go to space[14][15] when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993. The purpose of the Shuttle mission was to study the Earth's ozone layer. A veteran of four space flights, Ochoa has logged nearly 1000 hours in space.[16] She was a mission specialist on STS-56 (1993), was payload commander on STS-66, and was mission specialist and flight engineer on STS-96 and STS-110 in 2002.[1][17] Ochoa was in Mission Control during the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and was one of the first personnel informed of television coverage showing Columbia's disintegration.[18]

From 2007, after retiring from spacecraft operations, Ochoa served as Deputy Director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, helping to manage and direct the Astronaut Office and Aircraft Operations. On January 1, 2013, Ochoa became the first Hispanic and second female director of the Johnson Space Center.[19]

National Service

Ochoa was named Vice Chair of the National Science Board for the 2018–2020 term. She currently chairs the committee evaluating nominations for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.[20]

Personal life

Ochoa's husband is Coe Miles, an intellectual property attorney.[21] They have two sons.[21] Ochoa is a classical flutist and played with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, once receiving the Student Soloist Award.[22] While an undergraduate at San Diego State University, she played the flute for two years as part of the university marching band and for five years as a member of the university wind ensemble. She took a flute with her on her first mission to space.[23]


Ochoa in 2014

The Ochoa Middle School located in Pasco, Washington, the Ellen Ochoa Elementary School in Cudahy, CA and the Ánimo Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School in East Los Angeles are named in her honor. In addition, Grand Prairie, Texas has the Ellen Ochoa STEM Academy at Ben Milam Elementary School and Pico Rivera, California has the Ellen Ochoa Prep Academy.[24] Union Public Schools in Tulsa named a new elementary school after her as well.[25]

A flag with the rocket logo of the Ochoa Middle School in Pasco, Washington, flew with Ochoa in April 2002 aboard the Shuttle Atlantis for an 11-day mission to the International Space Station. Ochoa returned the flag to the school when she visited as a special guest at the 2002 dedication and it remains on permanent display.[26]

Ochoa has received many awards among which are NASA's Distinguished Service Medal (2015),[27] Exceptional Service Medal (1997), Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995) and Space Flight Medals (2002, 1999, 1994, 1993).[1] Ochoa and Michael Foale were announced as the 2017 class of the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.[28] Ochoa was recognized in Hispanic Executive's 2017 Best of the Boardroom[29] issue for her work as a board director for Johnson Space Center. She was inducted into the 2018 International Air and Space Hall of Fame class.[30]

Ochoa is a Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the National Academy of Inventors,[20] and Optica.[31]

An animated version of Ochoa was featured in the 2019 episode "Astronaut Ellen Ochoa" of the children's television program, Ready Jet Go!.[32]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Astronaut Bio: Ellen Ochoa" (PDF). NASA. May 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2021.
  2. ^ "Space Today Online – Man In Space Firsts – table of contents". www.spacetoday.org. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  3. ^ "Ochoa Named Johnson Space Center Director: Coats to Retire". NASA. November 16, 2012. Retrieved November 27, 2017.
  4. ^ "Ellen Ochoa". NNDB. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  5. ^ Hasday, Judy L. (2013). Ellen Ochoa. New York, NY. ISBN 978-1-4381-4611-9. OCLC 913784636.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ a b c d Kelly, Kate (September 24, 2014). "Ellen Ochoa: First Latina Astronaut, Inventor and Now Director of "Mission Control"". Archived from the original on December 9, 2021.
  7. ^ Iverson, Teresa (2006). Ellen Ochoa. Heinemann-Raintree Library.
  8. ^ "CSU Alumni – Aerospace & Aviation – Ellen Ochoa". calstate.edu. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  9. ^ US 4674824, Goodman, Joseph W.; Hesselink, Lambertus & Ochoa, Ellen, "System for enhancement of optical features", published 1987-06-23, assigned to Stanford University 
  10. ^ US 4838644, Ochoa, Ellen; Schils, George F. & Sweeney, Donald W., "Position, rotation, and intensity invariant recognizing method", published 1989-06-13, assigned to United States Department of Energy 
  11. ^ US 4949389, Allebach, Jan P.; Ochoa, Ellen & Sweeney, Donald W., "Optical ranked-order filtering using threshold decomposition", published 1990-08-14, assigned to United States Department of Energy 
  12. ^ "Ellen Ochoa". smithsonianeducation.org. Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  13. ^ Ellis, Lee (2004). Who's who of NASA astronauts (1st ed.). Americana Group Pub. p. 140. ISBN 978-0966796148. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  14. ^ "Guide to Hispanic Heritage". britannica.com.
  15. ^ Curtis, Anthony R. "Space Today Online – Man In Space Firsts – table of contents". www.spacetoday.org.
  16. ^ Delmore, Erin (December 12, 2019). "Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina to go to space: How to get more women into STEM". NBC News. Retrieved February 13, 2020.
  17. ^ "Spacefacts biography of Ellen Ochoa".
  18. ^ "STS-107 Entry Timeline". spaceflightnow.com. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  19. ^ "Ochoa Named Johnson Space Center Director". nasa.gov. Retrieved January 10, 2013.
  20. ^ a b "National Science Board". National Science Board. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  21. ^ a b Canales, Christina (February 14, 2017). "NASA Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ochoa to Be Inducted Into U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Release J17-001". Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  22. ^ "Ellen Ochoa". American Physical Society. Retrieved January 31, 2016.
  23. ^ "Honorary Doctorate Awarded to Ellen Ochoa". San Diego State University. October 3, 2019. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  24. ^ "Ellen Ochoa Prep Academy". ochoaprep.erusd.org. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
  25. ^ Pickard, Arianna (July 27, 2017). "Union debuts 'community school' model with Ellen Ochoa Elementary". Tulsa World. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  26. ^ "Ochoa Middle School". Ochoa Middle School. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  27. ^ "Astronaut Ellen Ochoa becomes the first Hispanic woman in space". HISTORY. Retrieved February 13, 2020.
  28. ^ "U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony & Gala". Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  29. ^ "Hispanic Executive's 2017 Best of the Boardroom". Hispanic Executive. Guerrero Media. April 25, 2017.
  30. ^ "World's Most Prestigious Air & Space Hall of Fame to Enshrine Distinguished Class of 2018". San Diego Air & Space Museum. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  31. ^ Gass, Jeanette. "Ellen Ochoa". Fellow members. Optica. Archived from the original on March 10, 2022.
  32. ^ "Ready Jet Go!". Alabama Public Television. Retrieved May 30, 2020.