Rachel Hintz
May 10, 2014 8:30 am

Today (May 10th) is Ellen Ochoa’s 56th birthday! Ellen is not only a pioneer for women in science and engineering, but she was also the first Hispanic-American female astronaut in space. There is something so exhilarating about women who are making history within our lifetime! Maybe that is an obvious sentiment, but she is a seriously good example of the fact that we as women can truly achieve anything. Let’s celebrate Ellen Ochoa’s inspirational career and learn more about this space traveler.

  • Ellen is a California girl, born and raised. Even as a young girl, her interest in space exploration was evident. She watched as NASA hired its first female astronauts while she was in college studying physics.
  • She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics from San Diego State back in 1980, and she didn’t stop there. Ellen went on to earn a Master of Science Degree AND a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from Stanford in ’81 and ’85, respectively.
  • Ellen Ochoa was the co-inventor for three patents for optical engineering systems.
  • Why an astronaut? Ellen Ochoa saw the astronaut program as a way to combine her interests. She loved research and engineering, as well as space exploration, so she became an astronaut in 1991.
  • Ellen was officially the first Hispanic-American woman in space. How amazing is that?! It was in April of 1993 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Ellen was a mission specialist, and she deployed and captured a research satellite that was used to study the sun.
  • Ochoa worked on the development of the International Space Station, and in May and June of ’99, she flew aboard the Discovery, which became the first Space Shuttle to actually dock with the Space Station. She helped deliver supplies to those living on the Space Station through the operation of a robot arm, which transferred four tons of clothing, computers, and medical supplies.
  • She has been on THREE space shuttle flights with NASA. Frequent flier miles, ya think? With over 719 hours in space, she has logged some serious extraterrestrial time. In one mission alone, she traveled over four million miles. That kind of distance is hard for me to even comprehend.
  • Let’s talk about awards for a second. Okay, maybe more like a minute, this list is too long. Ellen has received many NASA awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal, Exceptional Service Medal, Outstanding Leadership Medal, as well as four Space Flight Medals. Her other awards include the Harvard Foundation Science Award, Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, the Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity (wow, that was a mouthful…),  the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award, as well as the San Diego State University Alumna of the Year!
  • Awards aside, Ellen Ochoa has had three schools named after her! I guess that’s when you know you’ve really arrived, when people start naming things after you, even while you’re still alive! There’s the Ellen Ochoa Middle School in Pasco, Washington, the Ellen Ochoa Learning Center in Cudahy, California, and the Ellen Ochoa STEM Academy at Ben Milam Elementary in Grand Prairie, Texas.

  • When Ellen isn’t exploring space, she enjoys playing the flute, flying planes, as well as bicycling and the game of volleyball. She is married to Coe Fulmer Miles, and has two children. So Happy Early Mother’s Day, Ellen! You are an amazing mom, to say the least.
  • And now, a few inspirational quotes from the birthday girl herself:

I tell students that the opportunities I had were a result of having a good educational background. Education is what allows you to stand out.

A hallmark of the Latino community is to help one another, if students are interested in a way to give back and help their communities, becoming a teacher is probably one of the very best ways of doing that.

Being an astronaut is a wonderful career. I feel very privileged. But what I really hope for young people is that they find a career they’re passionate about, something that’s challenging and worthwhile.

Happy Birthday, Ellen!

Featured image via Huffington Post, Image via dvids

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