Difference Makers: Ellen Ochoa’s Journey to Space Inspires a New Generation of Students


Green Dot Public Schools is dedicated to making differences in education and historically underserved communities. In our Difference Makers series, we highlight pioneers who have demonstrated a passion for excellence, upheld professional responsibility, and supported educational opportunities for the next generation of students. 

In 1993, Ellen Ochoa became the first Latinx woman to travel into space, aboard NASA’s Discovery Space Shuttle. Ochoa served as a mission specialist who studied the earth’s atmosphere, its relationship with the sun, and the effects of solar wind. Between four separate shuttle missions, she spent more than 900 hours in space

Education has helped this veteran astronaut shoot for the stars. In 1980, Ochoa graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in physics. She continued her education at Stanford University, where she received a masters of science degree and a doctorate in electrical engineering. In her research, she has co-invented three patents and authored several technical papers.

Ochoa joined NASA as a research engineer at the Ames Research Center in 1988, where she researched optical information processing, and she served at the Johnson Space Center in 1990. Shortly after her research career, she applied to become a NASA astronaut.

After four separate missions to space, Ochoa continued to serve as a researcher at the Johnson Space Center. Most notably, she served as the 11th director for the space center from 2013 to 2018, making history as the first Hispanic and second female director at the Johnson Space Center. NASA has recognized Ochoa’s expertise and leadership with its highest awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal and Presidential Distinguished Rank Award. She now serves as vice chair of the National Science Board

At Green Dot Public Schools, we celebrate excellence all year long. We’ve built Ánimo Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School, a public, tuition-free, college preparatory charter school serving the Boyle Heights and East LA communities, to honor Ochoa’s stellar impact on space travel, and education. This high-performing middle school has rigorous college preparatory classes, strong school-parent relationships, and has sponsored student-led clean-up initiatives around its community