Dean Acosta/Renee Juhans
June 26, 2003
NASA's First Female Hispanic Astronaut Shares Experiences
Astronaut Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to fly in space, has traveled the United States sharing her groundbreaking experience with students and educators. But when they meet her, they don't even notice her gender or cultural heritage.
All they see is an astronaut.
"They're interested in hearing what an astronaut does and understanding what it's like to live and work in space," Ochoa said. "They don't act surprised to see me." This is encouraging to Ochoa, who remembers a time when there were no female or Hispanic astronauts. Today, 27 members of NASA's Astronaut Corps are female, and nine are Hispanic.
Ochoa has spent nearly 1,000 hours in space during her four missions that include two atmospheric research flights and two missions to the International Space Station. Her first venture was in April 1993 during a nine-day science mission aboard the Shuttle Discovery. While most of her time was occupied using a suite of complex instruments to better understand the impact of the sun's cycle on Earth, Ochoa found a few minutes to use another instrument, the flute she brought from home.
A classical flutist, Ochoa found playing a musical instrument in space is not much different than playing it on Earth. Because the Shuttle cabin is pressurized, the flute worked the same in space, with one exception: in the near-weightless environment, the flute practically held itself aloft. And she had the rare experience of playing the instrument while gazing down at the entire planet 160 miles below.
Her other hobbies include aviation closer to Earth. She's also a pilot, an interest she picked up after applying for the Astronaut Corps. "I realized how important it was to know something about aviation, and it was something I was interested in, so I followed my brother's footsteps and obtained my pilot's license," she said.
Ocha and her husband are the parents of two young sons, and would encourage them to become astronauts, if they choose. "Being an astronaut is a wonderful career," Ochoa said. "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."
Before becoming an astronaut Ochoa, who holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University, was a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif., and a researcher and manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.
She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, The Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity, and the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award.
Media organizations interested in interviewing Ochoa should contact John Ira Petty at 281/ 483-5111.
A complete biography of Ochoa is available on the Internet at:
To learn more about NASA education activities on the Internet, visit:
For information about NASA, the International Space Station, and human space flight on the Internet, visit:
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