Ellen Ochoa was born the same year as NASA, 1958. She was 11 when astronauts landed on the moon. But becoming an astronaut herself seemed less possible even than becoming president. “I can tell you, at that time, nobody ever asked a girl, ‘Is that something you want to grow up and do?'” Ochoa told the Newseum.
It began to seem possible in 1978, when six women were selected to be NASA astronauts. Though the mostly male engineers humorously designed a makeup kit for their new colleagues, “We didn’t want to become ‘the girl astronauts,’ distinct and separate from the guys,” said Kathryn Sullivan, one of the pioneering six.
With the path to space now open to women, Ochoa, who earned a bachelor’s degree in physics, joined the astronaut corps. In 1993, she became the first Hispanic woman in space. She completed four flights, logging nearly a thousand hours. She studied the Earth’s atmosphere, captured a satellite used to study the sun, and operated a robotic arm to move crew on spacewalks at the International Space Station.
A diverse array of women have joined her as scientists, mission specialists, pilots and commanders. Physician Mae Jemison became the first black female astronaut in 1992. Physician Chiaki Mukai was the first Japanese woman in space in 1994. Iranian-American engineer and entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari paid for a trip to the International Space Station in 2006 — the first female space tourist and the first astronaut of Iranian descent.
Learn about a 13-year-old who is trying to take the first step on Mars. No one — from her father to the media to officials at NASA — is questioning her dream.
Are you or someone you know interested in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering or math?
Learn about TechGirls, an exchange program for young girls from the Middle East and North Africa that emphasizes hands-on skills in fields such as Web design, robotics and video graphics. Girls Who Code equips girls with the skills and resources needed to pursue modern-day opportunities in computing fields. LAUNCH, founded by NASA, USAID, the Department of State and Nike, supports innovative approaches to sustainability challenges.