As a young girl, Ellen Ochoa (1958- ) was fascinated by the Apollo astronauts as they launched to the moon. But she could only dream about traveling beyond the earth since women weren’t selected to go into space at that time. Undeterred, Ellen focused her studies on physics and engineering, excelling at both. So when NASA eventually opened its astronaut class to women in 1978, Ellen’s goal went from dream to possibility, and became her reality in 1991. Now 48 years after watching her hero Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon, Dr. Ochoa has been inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, honored for her own pioneering career with NASA as a research engineer, astronaut, and director.

Dr. Ochoa joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California after earning a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. She joined Johnson in 1990, when she was selected by NASA as an astronaut candidate. In July 1991, Ellen became an astronaut making her the first Hispanic woman astronaut and subsequently, the first Hispanic woman to travel into space. As a mission specialist and flight engineer, she logged over 978 hours in space during her four space shuttle missions between 1993 and 2002 – two atmospheric research flights and two missions to the International Space Station.

Dr. Ochoa is now the Director of Johnson Space Center. She is Johnson’s first Hispanic director and only its second female director.

Learn more about this pioneering woman you should know here.

This is a photo of Ellen, also a classical flutist, playing the flute she brought from home during a nine day science mission aboard the Shuttle Discovery in April 1993. When she wasn’t busy using a suite of complex instruments to better understand the impact of the sun’s cycle on Earth, Ellen found time to play her beloved instrument. Credit: NASA