Innovative Lives

Research in Orbit

Research in Orbit
Ellen Ochoa When astronaut Ellen Ochoa talked with middle school students at the Lemelson Center in 1996, she told them that she enjoys doing so many things that she had a difficult time deciding what career to choose. She chose physics, because she likes math and with physics she can use her math skills to understand and explain the physical world. In graduate school, she earned two degrees in electrical engineering. After school, Dr. Ochoa went to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), developing optical recognition systems, computer hardware, and robots. An inventor, she holds three patents for devices that help scientists filter (refine) images that come from space.

When she was 33 years old, Dr. Ochoa became an astronaut, the first Hispanic woman to do so. She has spent 38 days in space on four space shuttle missions:

STS-56 ATLAS-2 (ATLAS stands for Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science) aboard Discovery (1993), to study the effect of solar activity on the Earth's climate and environment

STS-66 ATLAS-3 aboard Atlantis (1994), to study the energy of the sun

STS-96 aboard Discovery (1999), the first docking to the International Space Station

STS-110 aboard Atlantis (2002), the first time the International Space Station's robotic arm was used to maneuver spacewalkers around the Station

In her spare time, Dr. Ochoa plays the flute, bicycles, flies small planes, and plays volleyball! She has received many honors, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Medallion of Excellence (in 1993) and the Women in Science and Engineering's Engineering Achievement Award (in 1994). Dr. Ochoa believes that hard work, motivation, and persistence, as well as support from her parents, helped her succeed in work and school.

Learn more about Ellen Ochoa on these websites:


Teachers, explore the history of women inventors further with your students with our "She's Got It: Women Inventors and Their Inspirations" materials:
Download complete teachers' guide (PDF document. File size 3 MB, download time approx. 10 min. @ 56K)
Request the video.


All text and images © Smithsonian Institution. Updated 18 September 2009.


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