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  • Kimberley Guillemet

World Changer of the Month — January 2022: Dr. Ellen Ochoa

Dr. Ellen Lauri Ochoa was born on May 10, 1958 in Los Angeles, California to Joseph, a manager of a retail store, and Rosanne, a homemaker. Her paternal grandparents immigrated from Sonora, Mexico to Arizona and later to California where her father was born. Dr. Ochoa was the middle child of five.

Dr. Ochoa graduated from Grossmont High School in El Cajon in 1975. She received a bachelor of science degree in physics from San Diego State University and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1980. She went on to Stanford University where she earned a master of science degree and a doctorate in Electrical Engineering in 1981 and 1985, respectively.

In 1985, Dr. Ochoa applied for the NASA Astronaut Training Program. Although she was rejected, she decided to get a pilot’s license. She was certain she would enjoy flying and believed it might help build her resume for NASA. She applied again in 1987, but was once more turned down.

Undeterred, Dr. Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at Ames Research Center and moved to Johnson Space Center. Finally, in 1990, on her third application to the NASA Astronaut Training Program, she was accepted.

In 1993, Dr. Ochoa became the first Latina woman to go to space when she served on the STS-56, a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. A mission specialist and flight engineer, she has flown in space four times. She served as payload commander on STS-66, and was mission specialist and flight engineer on STS-96 and STS-110 in 2002. Dr. Ochoa was in Mission Control during the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and was one of the first personnel informed of Columbia's disintegration.

Beginning in 2007, after retiring from spacecraft operations, Dr. 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, Dr. Ochoa became the first Latinx person and second female director of the Johnson Space Center.

Ochoa has received many awards among which are NASA's Distinguished Service Medal (2015), Exceptional Service Medal (1997), Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995) and Space Flight Medals (2002, 1999, 1994, 1993). In 2017, she was inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, and in 2018, she was inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame.

Ochoa is also a classical flutist and played with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, once receiving the Student Soloist Award. She lives in Texas with her family.

To read more about Dr. Ochoa’s tremendous life and legacy, please visit:

Footage of Dr. Ochoa can be viewed at:


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