Ellen Ochoa quotes and biography

Ellen Ochoa Quotes, Story, and resources

Inside: Ellen Ochoa quotes, along with a collection of resources for learning about her life career.

Ellen Ochoa is famous for being the world’s first Latina astronaut. She is an electrical engineer, an astronaut with a decorated history at NASA, and chair of the National Science Foundation.

She flew in four space missions, is included the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and served the director of Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

If you are here just looking for Ellen Ochoa Quotes, click here to jump to that section!

“Don’t be afraid to reach for the stars. I believe a good education can take you anywhere on Earth and beyond.”

– Ellen Ochoa

Related: Famous Latinos & Hispanic Americans Home Page

Before we dive into more quotes from Ellen Ochoa, let’s take a look at her life and I’ll share some resources for learning more about her.

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Here’s an index of what’s included in the post. You can click on any link to jump straight to that section!

Ellen Ochoa Biography

Fast Facts about: Ellen Ochoa
Birth: May 10, 1958
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
Family: Husband, Coe Fulmer Miles, two sons
Education: San Diego State University (B.S.), Stanford University (M.S.), Stanford University (Ph.D.)
Career: Electrical, Engineer, Astronaut for Nasa, Director of the Johnson Space Center
Famous For: First Latina in Space


Ellen Ochoa was born May 10, 1958 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents moved to La Mesa, California when Ellen was just one. Ellen is the middle child of five siblings.

Her father had grown up as the youngest of 12, in a family that emigrated from Mexico and faced discrimination. 

Ellen’s parents divorced when she was in middle school. Though her mother only had a high school diploma, she strongly valued education and had begun college courses soon after Ellen was born. (She got her degree after 22 years of classes!)

As a child, Ellen liked math, reading and science. She won her school spelling bee one year, and the San Diego science fair another year. She began playing the flute as a 10-year-old, and ending up playing in her high school and university bands. She also enjoyed playing softball in high school.


Ochoa graduation from Grossmont High School in 9175, and went on to study physics at San Diego University. (She also considered majoring in music, as an already accomplished flutist. She had actually received a scholarship to Stanford in Palo Alto, but chose to stay close to home to support her mother.) Ellen graduated valedictorian in 1980.

At the time, it was unusual for women to choose technical fields. However, Ellen was offered a fellowship in engineering from Stanford University, and she went to earn a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 1981, and a Ph.D. in 1985.

Early Career

While at Stanford, Ochoa had begun to investigate optical systems for information processing (this means helping computers to accurately “see” objects). She continued her work with Sandia National Laboratories and then the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center.

In time, Ochoa was granted patents as the co-inventor for three optical devices: a system that inspects objects, a system that identifies and can “recognize” objects, and a system that minimizes distortion in the images taken of an object.  Later, working at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, Ochoa branched off into developing computer systems designed for aeronautical expeditions. Here she supervised a staff of 35 fellow scientists.

Space Missions

1993 (STS-56):

Ellen went to space for the first time in April, aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. The five crew members had been selected from over 100 astronauts to orbited the earth for nine days. One of Ellen’s jobs was operating a robotic arm to launch the SPARTAN satellite. 

1994 (STS-66):

She returned to space in November 1994, as Payload Commander aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The crew studied solar effects on the Earth’s atmosphere.

1999 :

The crew traveled on the Space Shuttle Discovery, docking a spacecraft on the International Space Station. Again, Ellen proved her skill at working the robotic arm. 


Again, the crew traveled to the International Space Station on the shuttle Discovery. 

Ochoa’s hours in space total more than 950 hours.

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Later Career

Ellen was promoted to deputy center director of the Johnson Space Center, known as “mission control.” She was the first Latina and the second woman to be director of the Johnson Space Center. 

In 2018, she left NASA and became part of the National Science Board. She became chair in 2020. 

Through her different leadership roles, Ellen Ochoa has become an icon for aspiring astronauts and students interested in STEM. She encourages the development of science, tech, engineering, and math education in K-8 grades and beyond.


  • Outstanding Leadership Medal (1995)
  • NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1997)
  • NASA Distinguished Service Medal 
  • 4 Space Flight Medals (1993, 1994, 1999, 2002)
  • 2017 US Astronaut Hall of Fame
  • National Academy of Inventors

Interesting Facts about Ellen Ochoa for Kids:

Ellen Ochoa is an accomplished flutist. She played in the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and in the marching band at San Diego. She brought her flute on her first space mission and played it in space!

Other astronauts had brought instruments into before, but she was the first one to float around while playing the flute.

There are some great ready-to-go printable and lessons for teaching more about Roberto Clemente. Check these out:

You also might be interested in my sets of biography slides and project templates for learning about Latinx and Spanish-Speaking leaders, plus a free guessing game.

Both English and Spanish, for Elementary Learners
In Spanish, for Middle/High School Learners

Books FOR kids to adults

These links are affiliate links.

  • Printable activity to go along with The Astronaut with a Song for the Stars
  • More in-depth printables for The Astronaut with a Song for the Stars, for interactive notebooks
  • Goal-setting printable with Ellena Ochoa

Videos About Ellen Ochoa

A very quick 40-second intro in Spanish for kids:

A 4-minute biography in English.

Interview with CNN en español (8min. 43s)

Biografia en español (1min 45s):

Ellen Ochoa Quotes

Here are some Ellen Ochoa quotes that give us a peek into her thoughts about education and life as an astronaut.

1. “I’m honored to be recognized among generations of astronauts who were at the forefront of exploring our universe for the benefit of humankind.”

– Ellen Ochoa

2. “What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire – the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.”

– Ellen Ochoa

3. “Usually, girls weren’t encouraged to go to college and major in math and science. My high school calculus teacher, Ms. Paz Jensen, made math appealing and motivated me to continue studying it in college.”

– Ellen Ochoa

4. “What I really hope for young people is that they find a career they’re passionate about, something that’s challenging and worthwhile.”

– Ellen Ochoa

5. “I’ll tell you, being involved in human space flight, it is an emotional endeavor. I think it brings in the highest highs and the lowest lows.”

Ellen Ochoa

6. “I tell students that the opportunities I had were a result of having a good educational background. Education is what allows you to stand out.”

– Ellen Ochoa

7. “Astronauts are very professional and when they’re preparing for launch, they prepare for it as the most serious endeavor of our lives.”

– Ellen Ochoa

8. When I was going through school, it was pretty unusual for a woman to be in STEM fields. Certainly, any woman of color. In some [classes], I was the only woman. In others, maybe one of two or four. I can only remember one class with more than that.”

– Ellen Ochoa, NBC

9. “A hallmark of the Latino community is to help one another, if students are interested in a way to give back and help their communities, becoming a teacher is probably one of the very best ways of doing that.”

Ellen Ochoa

10. “Sally made it possible for anyone to become an astronaut.”

– Ellen Ochoa

11. “A couple of years later, Sally Ride flew. That was a huge milestone: the first American woman in space. She had been a physics major, like I had. She had gone to Stanford, where I was getting my Ph.D.

Then, two years after that, the first astronaut of Hispanic heritage, Franklin Chang Diaz, flew. A lot of things were changing. Certainly, the space world was changing. I really needed to see those kinds of comparisons for me to think about it.”

– Ellen Ochoa, NBC

12. “Homework always came first. Then my music — I started playing the flute when I was 10, and much later, got to play my flute in space — and other things. As you can see, it was definitely worth it.”

– Ellen Ochoa, NBC

13. “Listen to the people who know you and ignore those who don’t.”

Ellen Ochoa

14. When asked what it feels like to leave the earth:

“Well, it’s an exciting ride. Just the launch itself takes about only eight and a half minutes to go from sitting on the launch pad to traveling at 17,500 miles per hour where you’re going to be orbiting the earth every hour and a half… But what it feels like inside is that someone who weighs three times as much as you is sitting on your chest and so it can make it a little bit hard to breathe and certainly hard to sort of move your arms up in front of you during the launch. But then it cuts off, you know, very quickly. Right when the main engines cut off, you go from being at 3 Gs force to essentially being at 0 Gs force where things are floating.” 

– Ellen Ochoa, San Diego Union Tribune

15. “I grew up in the Apollo era, and of course everybody was talking about it but hey never asked a girl, ‘Do you want to grow up to be an astronaut?’ or why don’t you think about doing that. So it was a big deal in ’78 when the first female astronauts were selected… I could also relate a little bit to Sally because she had gone to Stanford where I was at the time…

And really, those things made a huge amount of difference to me, because if that hadn’t been the case I just don’t think I could have ever, ever pictured myself doing something like this.”

– Ellen Ochoa, 2021, NPR

16. When I got back, I got all kinds of invitations to speak at schools with high Hispanic populations. It feels really good to reach out to students who didn’t [previously] see people who looked like them accomplishing things in the science, engineering or space world.

It gave a lot [of people] something to think about, the same way that I really started thinking about space after I saw Sally Ride flying.

Ellen Ochoa 2005, Science in the Workplace

17. “This was the last astronaut job that was not (yet) done by a woman. Now with this milestone we can focus on the fact that what is important to succeed in life, it does not matter whether you are a man or a woman.”

– Ellen Ochoa

18. “But I don’t work alone; I’m part of a team that includes not only the crew but also the entire team of people who make a mission successful. Everyone works very hard to do their part in planning, designing, and executing a mission, and each person’s job is important.”

– Ellen Ochoa 2005, Science in the Workplace

19. Working so closely with a team to accomplish a challenging, meaningful task is the greatest reward of being an astronaut.

– Ellen Ochoa 2005, Science in the Workplace

20. “….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.”

 Ellen Ochoa, Smithsonian

I hope these ideas and resources were helpful to you! If you have more ideas for Ellen Ochoa lessons, let me know in the comments below!

Image Credits:

Ellen Ochoa” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Oregon State University

Johnson Space Center Director Ellen Ocho”  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by NASA Johnson

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One Comment

  1. keith richemond says:

    This way very interesting and i am Thurely proud of the acomplishments that Ellen Ochoa had to show other women that there is hope and you are never limited to anything.

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