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Ellen Ochoa

In 1993, Ellen Ochoa made history when she became the first Hispanic person to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. Her nine-day mission into space aboard the shuttle Discovery was a far cry from Ochoa’s childhood in La Mesa, California, where her single mother raised her along with three brothers. Ochoa thrived in school from an early age and eventually earned her doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1985. In 1990, NASA chose her to become the first Mexican-American astronaut, serving as a crew representative for flight software and robotics. Three years later, Ochoa would reach space as part of a critical mission to study the Earth’s ozone layer. Since then, she has gone on three more space flights, logging 1,000 hours in space. In 2007 Ochoa became deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and six years later she was promoted to director. She was the second woman to hold the post and the first Hispanic. During her tenure she notably oversaw work on the Orion, which was scheduled to travel farther than other crewed spacecraft, allowing for human exploration of such destinations as Mars. Ochoa retired from the Johnson Space Center in 2018 to become vice chair of the National Science Board (NSB), which runs the National Science Foundation. She became NSB chair in 2020.

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