Dr . Ellen Ochoa

Engineer, Astronaut, Inventor

NAME: Ellen Ochoa (Ph.D) NASA Astronaut


Born May 10, 1958 in Los Angeles, California, but considers La Mesa, California, to be her hometown. She is married to Coe Fulmer Miles of Molalla, Oregon. Dr. Ellen Ochoa is a classical flutist and private pilot, and also enjoys volleyball and bicycling. Her mother, Rosanne Ochoa, resides in La Mesa.

EDUCATION: Graduated from Grossmont High School, La Mesa, California, in 1975; received a bachelor of science degree in physics from San Diego State University in 1980, a master of science degree and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1981 and 1985, respectively.


Member of the Optical Society of America (OSA), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi honor societies.


NASA awards include the Exceptional Service Medal (1997), Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995), Space Flight Medals (1994, 1993), and two Space Act Tech Brief Awards (1992). Recipient of numerous other awards, including most recently the Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, The Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity, the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award, and San Diego State University Alumna of the Year.


As a doctoral student at Stanford, and later as a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories and NASA Ames Research Center, Dr. Ochoa investigated optical systems for performing information processing. She is a co-inventor on three patents for an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a method for noise removal in images. As Chief of the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch at Ames, she supervised 35 engineers and scientists in the research and development of computational systems for aerospace missions. Dr. Ochoa has presented numerous papers at technical conferences and in scientific journals. Selected by NASA in January 1990, Dr. Ochoa became an astronaut in July 1991. Her technical assignments to date include flight software verification, crew representative for flight software and computer hardware development, crew representative for robotics development, testing, and training, and Assistant for Space Station to the Chief of the Astronaut Office, directing crew involvement in the development and operation of the Station. A veteran of two space flights, Dr. Ochoa has logged over 484 hours in space. She currently serves as a spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) in Mission Control. In April 1993, Dr. Ochoa flew as a Mission Specialist on STS-56, carrying ATLAS-2. During this 9-day mission the crew of Discovery conducted atmospheric and solar studies in order to better understand the effect of solar activity on the Earth's climate and environment. Dr. Ochoa used the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) to deploy and capture the Spartan satellite, which studied the solar corona. Dr. Ochoa was the Payload Commander on the STS-66 Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science-3 mission (November 3-14, 1994). ATLAS-3 continues the series of Spacelab flights to study the energy of the Sun during an 11-year solar cycle and to learn how changes in the sun's irradiance affect the Earth's climate and environment. Dr. Ochoa used the RMS to retrieve the CRISTA-SPAS atmospheric research satellite at the end of its 8-day free flight.

A lot of my friends in the astronaut program decided when they were very young that when they grew up that they wanted to become an astronaut. They decided from a very young age, maybe even younger than you, that that’s what they would do; they would go to college and study engineering, and try to join the program.

But for me, it was a little different. For one thing, when I was your age, we had astronauts who landed on the moon for the first time -- probably when I was about your age, about eleven. But at that time, there weren’t any women astronauts and also very few who were scientists. Most of them were pilots in the military at that point. So it didn’t occur to me when I was in school that this was something I could grow up and do. But as the space program evolved as I said we’ve moved more from piloting into science and engineering.

While I was at Stanford and I was working before becoming an astronaut, I was involved in doing research in equipment like lasers and holograms. Maybe you’ve seen some demonstrations of a laser or holograms either at your school or in a museum. And we were looking at those specifically for processing images -- for example, trying to find a particular object within an image. You might use that on a manufacturing line if you’re trying to inspect equipment and you’re looking for defects; or you might use it on an autonomous lander to Mars when you’re trying to land around a particular spot and you’re using a video camera to look for it. And you can use optics to help you find the right place. Those were the kinds of things I was looking for and those were what some of my patents are in.

Additional Information :

Meet NASA Astronaut
Ellen Ochoa

"I can only imagine the amazement and pride my grandparents would feel, having been born in Mexico in the 1870s, on knowing that their granddaughter grew up to travel in space. Their move to the United States to raise their family along with my mother's passion for learning provided me with the opportunity and motivation to get an education and set high goals. Many doors opened for me when I completed college, and encourage all Latinas to seek out interesting, challenging careers -- these are within your grasp if you are willing to study and work hard!"
- Ellen Ochoa


NASA Astronaut
Bachelor's degree: Physics, San Diego State University
Master’s Degree: Electrical engineering, Stanford University
Doctorate: Electrical engineering, Stanford University
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
Hobbies: In her spare time, Ellen enjoys playing the classical flute, volleyball and bicycling. She is also a private pilot and is a member of the Presidential Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History.

Ellen was born on May 10 in Los Angeles, California. She grew up in La Mesa, California and graduated from the Grossmont High School in 1975.

Ellen was selected by NASA in January 1990, and became an astronaut in July 1991. She is the first Hispanic female astronaut!

She has gone on 3 space flights and logged over 719 hours in space.
Ellen is also a co-inventor of 3 patents for an optical object recognition method, an optical inspection system, and a method for noise removal in images systems.
She will be the flight engineer on a 10-day mission to the International Space Station, which is scheduled to launch in 2002.
Special Honors from NASA:

Exceptional Service Medal (1997)
Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995 )
Space Flight Medals (1999, 1994, 1993)
Two Space Act Tech Brief Awards (1992)
Other Awards:

Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award
The Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity
Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award
San Diego State University Alumna of the Year
Click here to visit NASA Astronaut, Ellen Ochoa’s official biography.