This week we are featuring retired astronaut and NASA Johnson Space Center Director (JSC), Ellen Ochoa.
A veteran of four shuttle flights (STS-56, STS-66, STS-96 and STS-110), Ochoa has logged nearly 1,000 hours in orbit. She is also the first Hispanic woman to fly in space.
Ellen Ochoa astronaut portrait

Ochoa actually joined NASA first as a research engineer in 1988. Just two years later, she was selected as a NASA astronaut.

In 2017, Ochoa was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame. She has received several patents for optics systems and is incredibly passionate about STEM education and advocacy.

Ochoa has since retired from her role as an astronaut and center director at JSC. She has received many awards and notable distinctions, including NASA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

Perhaps the most touching testament to her legacy are the six schools that have taken the name of this incredible trailblazer. She continues to speak about her experiences and is the Vice Chair of the National Science Board.

If you think that’s impressive, check out these other fun facts about retired astronaut and STEM pioneer, Ellen Ochoa!

JSC’s first Hispanic director and second female director

STS-96 launch

In 2013, Ochoa began a new role at JSC as center director. She served as the 11th director, becoming the first Hispanic, and second woman, to hold the position. She served in this role for five years, during which she oversaw major milestones like the first Orion flight-test and the selection of four astronauts for Commercial Crew training.

Prior to her role as center director, Ochoa served as the deputy center director and the director of flight crew operations on site at JSC.

Flew aboard STS-96, the first shuttle mission to dock with the space station

Ochoa was assigned to the STS-96 flight as a mission specialist and launched aboard Discovery to the International Space Station (ISS) in 1999. The mission was the first docking to the station, which then consisted of just two modules, American Unity and the Russian Zarya.

Ellen Ochoa plays the flute in space

The crew of STS-96 brought supplies aboard Discovery to prep the ISS for astronaut stays and attached two cranes to the ISS which would be used in assembling the rest of the space station.

Ochoa later returned to the ISS with STS-110 eleven years after the first docking mission. It was during this flight that the first truss, which would become the frame for the ISS, was added.

It’s safe to say that Ochoa played a role in the early formation of the ISS, a space lab that has continued to help teach us about the effects of space on the human body, how to survive off-planet, about the history of our world and those beyond.

Ochoa played the flute…in space

Astronauts love to make music in space!

Ochoa, a classical flutist of 25 years, played her musical instrument as she flew weightless around the Earth. Ochoa was not the first astronaut to play a musical instrument in space, but she was the first to play the flute in low-Earth orbit!

According to NASA, STS-56 mission specialist Ochoa played a 15-minute set in space during which she played the “Marine Corps Hymn,” “Navy Hymn,” and “God Save the Queen” for her fellow crew members.

Learn more about retired astronaut Ochoa by clicking here.