Ellen Ochoa (left), the first Hispanic female astronaut, and Major Eileen M. Collins, the first woman to be named as a pilot candidate, begin their first day of candidate training at NASA in Houston, Texas, on July 16, 1990.
Ellen Ochoa (left), the first Hispanic female astronaut, and Major Eileen M. Collins, the first woman to be named as a pilot candidate, begin their first day of candidate training at NASA in Houston, Texas, on July 16, 1990. AP
As NASA enjoys the final mission of its space shuttle program, Tell Me More has been speaking with astronauts and other pioneers of space exploration who have broken new ground. Host Michel Martin speaks with Ellen Ochoa for the third part of the series "Flying High: First In Their Class."
Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman to travel into space. She took four trips on space shuttles between 1993 and 2002. She is now the deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas — home to NASA's famed Mission Control Center.
Ochoa says that she did not originally consider space exploration because there were no female astronauts during her upbringing. In college, she was interested in music and business but ended up graduating with a physics degree. She went on to graduate school, where her love of research led her to pursue space exploration. She had learned that NASA launched a shuttle into space for the first time and used it as a base for research.
Shortly after NASA selected her for its team, Ochoa realized she had an opportunity to discuss science and education to a whole community of Hispanic-Americans. Over the past 20 years, she received thousands of letters from schoolchildren who developed space interests after hearing about her.
When Ochoa once delivered a speech at Stanford University, a Hispanic student who was majoring in mechanical engineering told Ochoa how excited she was about the speech because the two had met when the student was in second grade. That was shortly after Ochoa's first flight mission.
"If that's the kind of impact that NASA can have and I can personify that, that's a wonderful legacy," Ochoa says.