Ellen Ochoa: Inventor, Astronaut, Pioneer

Ellen Ochoa
NASA astronaut Ellen Ochoa during training at Vance Air Force base in Houston, TX., 1993. NASA/Liaison/Getty Images

Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman in space and is the current director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. And along the way, she even had time to do a little inventing, receiving multiple patents for optical systems.

Early Life and Inventions

Ellen Ochoa was born on May 10, 1958, in Los Angeles, CA. She did her undergraduate studies at San Diego State University, where she received a bachelor of science in physics.

She later went on to Stanford University, where she got a master of science degree and doctorate in electrical engineering.

Ellen Ochoa’s pre-doctoral work at Stanford University in electrical engineering led to the development of an optical system designed to detect imperfections in repeating patterns. This invention, patented in 1987, can be used for quality control in the manufacturing of various intricate parts. Dr. Ellen Ochoa later patented an optical system which can be used to robotically manufacture goods or in robotic guiding systems. In all, Ellen Ochoa has received three patents most recently one in 1990.

Career With NASA

In addition to being an inventor, Dr. Ellen Ochoa is also a research scientist and former astronaut for NASA. Selected by NASA in January 1990, Ochoa is a veteran of four space flights and has logged nearly 1,000 hours in space. She took her first spaceflight in 1993, flying a mission on the space shuttle Discovery and becoming the first Hispanic woman in space.

 Her last flight was a mission to the International Space Station on the space shuttle Atlantis in 2002. According to NASA, her responsibilities on these flights included flight software and operating the International Space Station's robotic arm. 

Since 2013, Ochoa has served as the director of Houston's Johnson Space Center, home of NASA's astronaut training facilities and Mission Control.

She is only the second woman to hold that role.