A former astronaut, Ellen Ochoa made history in 1993 when she became the first Hispanic American woman in space. Her accomplishment is one that she hopes young women and minorities will cling to and realize they have the ability to chase their own dreams.
While Ochoa herself didn’t have female astronaut role models she could look up to as a young girl, as she got older she soon began to realize that anything was possible for her as well.
“When I was young, women weren’t astronauts,” she said. “And so, I don’t think I could even have conceived it. But once women started to be selected as astronauts, and that was about halfway through my undergraduate years, that was really when I first started thinking about it.”
While as an astronaut, Ochoa logged almost 1,000 hours in orbit. She says she had moments of fear and doubt throughout that journey, and especially right before her first mission.
“I was most afraid of being in a car accident and not being able to go on the mission because it was something I had dreamed about for so long and there I was so close,” she said.
Although she had many successes in her career, Ochoa also had a major setback when the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred, resulting in the deaths of all the crew members on board. Ochoa had been in mission control during the event.
“The most difficult part of my whole career is when we lost Columbia and her crew,” Ochoa said. “Of course, I knew all those folks. It was a huge blow for everybody at NASA, so working through that was a very difficult period.”
Ochoa’s recent address on perseverance and following their dreams resonated with many minorities in the crowd during her speech.
“We’ve got to reach out to everybody and make sure that women and minorities who don’t normally choose these careers understand that this is important to them and can be really rewarding and [an] exciting career too.”
Ochoa’s main message to the crowd was that the sky isn’t the limit. Her journey is proof of that.