Ellen Ochoa: 1958—: Astronaut
Loved The View
Ochoa began as a flight software specialist in robotics development, testing, and training in 1991, and was surprised when she was chosen for her first mission, scheduled for April of 1993. "Usually it takes quite a bit longer; I got lucky," Ochoa told Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service journalist Martin a few months later. She was part of a five-member crew aboard the space shuttle Discovery, serving as a specialist the second ATLAS (Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science) mission. Ochoa and hew crewmates conducted research on solar activity, and she used a Remote Manipulator System (RMS), a 50-foot robotic arm, to deploy and capture the Spartan satellite that retrieved data about the solar corona and solar winds. She recalled in the interview with Martin that she never tired of the view. "The most exciting thing was looking out at Earth from up there. It was beautiful."
Ochoa also took part in a November 1994 mission aboard the space shuttle Atlantis serving as payload commander for another data-collecting mission on solar energy. Her next flight was again on the Discovery, a ten-day space journey in the spring of 1999 for which she served as mission specialist and flight engineer. The Discovery mission was the first shuttle flight to dock to the International Space Station, which was expecting a resident permanent crew the following year. Ochoa and her team delivered several hundred pounds of supplies, again with the help of the RMS device. "There's no weight in space, so that's not the problem," Contra Costa Times reporter Elizabeth Zach quoted Ochoa as saying about this particular task. "What is a problem, though, is the mass. It's just so awkward." Ochoa was also scheduled for duty as a Mission Specialist on a planned Atlantis flight in April of 2002, which would be the thirteenth mission to the International Space Station.
Ochoa likens being an astronaut to being in school again, describing it as a constant learning process. Back at NASA, she has also served as spacecraft communicator at Mission Control for other shuttle flights, and as assistant for the space station to Chief of the Astronaut Office. Married with two children, she flies her own single-engine plane for recreation, and still plays the flute, as she did in high school. Her status as America's first Latina astronaut has made her the recipient of many awards. She enjoys speaking to groups of students, and does not hesitate to encourage young women to explore science as a career. She has delivered more than 150 such talks, and as she told the Stanford University School of Engineering Annual Report, "I never thought about this aspect of the job when I was applying, but it's extremely rewarding. I'm not trying to make every kid an astronaut, but I want kids to think about a career and the preparation they'll need."
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Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA), October 14, 1999.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, December 1, 1993.
Astronaut Ellen Ochoa, http://www.jsc.nasa.gov
"Crew Interview: Ochoa," http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-96/crew/intochoa.html
Stanford University School of Engineering Annual Report, 1997-98, http://soe.stanford.edu/AR97-98/ochoa.html (February 23, 2002).
Impacto, Influencia, Cambio, http://educate.si.edu